VOD film review: Nocturne
James R | On 13, Oct 2020
Director: Zu Quirke
Cast: Sydney Sweeney, Madison Iseman, Jacques Colimon
Black Swan but with a piano. That’s the starting point for Nocturne, the latest joint from Amazon Studios and Blumhouse Television. But while that might sound like a derivative note for a thriller, Nocturne plays on that brief with a creepy, stylish intensity.
The film follows Juliet (Sydney Sweeney), a piano student at an elite academy who is desperate to be the best of the best. But her ivory-tinkling skills are eclipsed in every key by her sister, Vivian (Madison Iseman), who is on course to be the star soloist in the concert to mark the end of the school year. To say there’s no love lost between the sisters is an understatement, and Iseman’s confident abilities are perfectly juxtaposed with Sweeney’s insidious, bitter presence.
Their sibling rivalry in a harshly competitive environment plays out in the shadow of a tragedy, after another musician – violinist Moira – jumped from her balcony and died. When Juliet finds their notebook, which is covered in occult scribbles and disturbing drawings, she finds herself drawn into a world in which she seems to have everything suddenly go her way.
Juliet then throws herself headfirst into besting her sister at any opportunity, trying to steal her teacher and even outplay her at her chosen piece – Saint-Saens’ exceedingly challenging Piano Concerto No 2. From bloody pranks early on to confrontations with a boyfriend caught in between the two sisters, things modulate into an increasingly dark pitch. “Vivian plays like the devil is at the door,” says teacher Henry (Ivan Shaw). “Moira played like the devil was in the room.”
To what degree is this a demonic tale of possession or just an intense fable of obsession? Nocturne moves up and down the scale between the two possibilities, with director Zu Quirke serving up striking visuals to go with the effective sound design. It’s Sweeney’s queasy principal turn, though, that holds the conflicting notes together, and there’s an elegant simplicity to this atmospheric chamber piece, one that strikes your nerves consistently enough to resonate.