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Nocturne

Oct 20, 2020

Horror in music and the mind--a most-sophisticated scary story.

Nocturne

Grade: B+

Director: Zu Quirke

Screenplay: Quirke

Cast: Sydney Sweeney (Euphoria), Madison Iseman

Runtime: 1h 30m

Rating: NR

By: John DeSando

“Music is a blood sport.” Dr. Cask (Ivan Shaw)

Having just viewed The Wolf of Snow Hollow, which combines the satiric with the traditional horror genre, seeing writer-director Zu Quirke’s Nocturne made me realize that a horror film with no digitized scares or much blood to boot can be a most terrorizing rendition of that durable formula. The scare is in the mind, you see.

Juliet (Sydney Sweeney) and her more talented sister, Vi (Madison Iseman), compete at their high-class music school for the chance to play in the school’s final concert. They both choose Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No 2 (remember the concerto competition with the demanding Rachmaninov 3rd in Shine?). Although Vi wins the right to play it at the concert in the end of the year, Juliet makes an implied Faustian pact with the devil, whom she found in an old playbook, to reverse her sister’s fortunes and enhance her own.

What is so impactful is the lack of blood and screams; in fact, there are few, if any, jump scares. The terror is in Juliet’s head, her obsession to win, her jealousy as the guiding principle. It’s all very sotto voce, so to speak, a quiet doom tamped down by beautiful music and feelings kept just low enough to allow effective dialogue and feel the presence of a malevolent force, which may be the devil but surely is the “green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.” In some sense, I am reminded of the rivalry in Black Swan

About the Saint Sens, pianist Lise de la Salle wrote: “The highly lyrical first movement is an expression of late Romanticism. The second movement is as effervescent as a glass of champagne. And the final movement, a real whirlwind, a fantastic ride (wonderfully captured in this quasi-perpetual movement in triplets), is quite dizzying.” These elements could be found in Nocturne.

“Welcome to the Blumhouse” is a “program of eight terrifying genre movies coming to Prime Video,” and if the other seven are as good as this one, Halloween viewing will have matured to an intelligence and psychology worthy of a genre rarely this high class or intellectually satisfying.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JohnDeSando62@gmail.com