Nocebo

Review of Filipino-Irish co-production thriller, ‘Nocebo’

November 29, 2022 Mario Bautista 365 views

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‘NOCEBO’ is a horror-thriller that is a co-production between Ireland and the FDCP and was screened in the QCinema. In the cast are many Filipino actors led by Chai Fonacier (“Patay na si Hesus”), Anthony Falcon as her husband, Angie Ferro as a dying witch and Carla Martinez as rich lady. There are also many important scenes shot on location in our country.

Nocebo is the opposite of placebo and is a condition where the treatment given to a sick person seems to have a more negative effect than a positive one. The movie starts with Christine (Eva Green), a designer for children’s clothes who is suffering from ailments like headaches, severe aches and pains, and skin problems. Is she really ill or is it psychosomatic or caused by something that is supernatural?

Add to this her bout with memory loss after she got a mysterious call reporting to her that something tragic happened in a sweatshop elsewhere. Then one day, an Asian woman, Diana (Chai Fonacier), suddenly materializes on her doorstep saying Christine hired her to help around the house. Christine says she totally forgot about hiring her, but welcomes Diana to her home.

Her husband, Felix (Mark Strong) and their daughter, Bobs (Billie Gadsdon), are both not aware that Christine has hired anyone. But she cooks well and when Christine suddenly feels pain, she is able heal her in an instant. But Diana is certainly no Mary Poppins. She looks more like a quack doctor and tells her cryptically: “Something is hidden inside of you, Christine. Something you hide even from yourself.”

What that something really is will eventually be revealed, but it takes quite sometime to get there. Ultimately, the film even tackles what is wrong in the world these days, the inequality where developed countries horrendously exploit third world countries where labor is dirt cheap.

This is as far as we’d go because revealing anything else would be quite a spoiler. Halfway through the film, a perceptive viewer can more or less guess where it is eventually going. As a horror-thriller, “Nocebo” is neither scary nor thrilling. It is actually a story of guilt and revenge.

Some portentuous elements are used in trying to foster an atmosphere of dread: an uncanny looking stray dog so full of fleas, some bugs that go up Christine’s neck and later, on her face, birds that enter people’s mouth. Meantime, Christine’s health and sanity continue to deteriorate.

Former Bond girl Eva Green gives an affecting performance as the stressed heroine, but sorry to say that our very own Chai Fonacier easily overshadows her. Chai gives a very measured performance, even in delivering her lines in English with a very pronounced Pinoy accent. Her exotic looks also certainly suits the part of the seemingly caring nanny who turns out to have other motives. Even when she is just mumbling some words incomprehensively, Chai conveys something dark and sinister.

“Nocebo” is a better realized movie than “Vivarium”, the last work of its Irish director, Lorcan Finnegan. We’ve seen it and it’s about the nightmare of being trapped in your own home in a subdivision where the houses all look the same. It works for a while but the joke quickly wears off and it becomes a bore to watch. “Nocebo”, at least, manages to take folk horror and culture clash to another level, where hell hath no fury like a Pinay mother scorned.

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