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‘Nocebo’ review: The follies of capitalism, exploited labor, and ticks – oh my!

Eva Green stars as a fashion designer that falls mysteriously ill. The woman she meets with herbal cures has more up her sleeve than what the doctor ordered.

In a capitalistic society, there will always be a winner and a loser. Unfortunately, that means things get made for mass consumption at the expense of the less fortunate. A parasitic relationship that, quite frankly, companies find themselves chomping at the bit to exploit. Nocebo is not a horror/thriller film that conceals its message. Director Lorcan Finnegan does provide some metaphorical imagery – some unsettling and others you’ll want more context for. With this tale, its strong suit knows the audience will see what to expect early on. Yet, still provide an experience to meditate on with a rather enjoyable effect.

Christine (Eva Green) is a fashion designer who is noticeably happy because she’s about to debut a new line of children’s clothes. While at this event, she gets a phone call from an unnamed person and says, horrified, “oh my god. Pulling out...bodies?” While trying to process that, Christine spots a diseased-riddled dog come out behind a curtain and shake large ticks onto her. She was told some traumatic news, so it is possible this can all be in her mind? What could possibly be an explanation for this occurrence?

Eight months later, Christine is having difficulty fighting off a mysterious illness. The clothing business has progressively slowed for her, and she’s just trying to keep her head above water. One day, a Filipina woman named Diana (Chai Fonacier) shows up at her doorstep, claiming she has come to help her. Mind you, Christine has no recollection of ever talking to or hiring this woman in the first place. However, she chalks up the possible memory loss to her illness and lets her in.

It’s clever for Finnegan and writer Garret Shanley to use this device for Diana’s arrival. For a good part of Nocebo, the film tries to establish the staunch differences between Christine and Diana as mothers and the class system they live within. Christine and her marketing strategist husband Felix (Mark Strong) seem to be in a cold, stressful space within their relationship. Their daughter Roberta/nicknamed “Bobs” (Billie Gadson), is often left to her own devices.

They are too caught up in their stuff to notice Diana, which indicates how immigrant labor is treated. Some in higher positions peg them as nameless, faceless entities. When Diana serves Filipino food for dinner, Felix makes snide comments about being surprised it’s good – awful stuff. Typically, somebody like Diana’s character would be relegated to a supporting role in a film like this. That doesn’t happen with Nocebo partly because of Fonacier’s performance and devotion to flashbacks about Diana’s life in the Philipines.

At times, it feels as though the film tries to take on a bit too much in this regard. It has to explain the folklore and the emotional reason why Diana has sought Christine out specifically. Nocebo shows Diana was once a mother, and Christine’s choices have severely impacted that – let’s say. Can it be hard to believe this family doesn’t notice Diana’s vengeful stares, the ingredients in their food, or the collection of talismans in her guest room? Well, Felix is at least skeptical. However, this could be due to his implicit biases about Diana’s background.

Christine is at the mercy of Diana’s remedies for her condition – she even discards the childhood story of a faith healer and her abilities being passed on to Diana at an early age. Hey, whatever is happening is working. Christine often feels better after, but danger (or warnings) soon rear their ugly head. Before the conclusion, Finnegan makes sure to weave in some tense moments – one, in particular, shows a relatively large tick interrupting Christine’s sleep.

The story works if you look at Green and Strong’s characters as a symptom of privilege. Aside from a few instances, they don’t get you to muster that much disdain toward them. Especially given how fast Christine falls from her pedestal. Nocebo first leans on the abstract, then a bluntness that may make you say, “I get what you’re saying.” Despite this, the twist on occult ritualistic practices and who is considered a parasite is worth a look.

Is Christine sick, or is it the toxic buildup of shame and guilt she’s been carrying for years? For once, retribution is not something that awaits you on your death; instead, it makes you kneel to powers you cannot control.