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The new psychological horror film by Lorcan Finnegan is nothing if not ambitious. To begin with, the name NOCEBO may sound intriguing and mysterious, but it will be inexplicable to most audiences. (For the record, the word means a harmless substance or treatment that may cause harmful side effects because the patient expects them). Finnegan’s film also casts Eva Green and Mark Strong in the leads, and while they are excellent actors, neither presents a great deal of warmth onscreen and their chilliness keeps them at arms’ length throughout the horrors their characters endure. Finally, Finnegan has made a clear political frightener, savaging everything from the overreach of British colonialism to the cruelty of capitalism. Yet, despite such hurdles, most of Finnegan’s film works quite well, bringing to the screen effective thrills and chills.

The story starts with Christine (Green), a British fashion designer specializing in children’s clothing. She seems happy and successful but then while closing her boutique down for the night, a mangy, disease-ridden hound appears, and its presence causes Christine to have a meltdown. As the dog shakes off his body full of ticks, one of the little buggers burrows into Christine’s comely neck. This is the first scene of the movie and it sets us up for a film that will be as shocking as it is unseemly.

But is what we saw real? Soon enough, Finnegan and his cunning screenwriter Garret Shanley showcase Christine as a hot mess, suffering from anxiety, visions, panic attacks, and a loveless marriage. Her husband Felix (Strong) doesn’t help her keep calm either. He’s a hot-shot marketing expert, but he doesn’t know how to communicate with his troubled wife. Instead, he speaks to her with a condescending, dispassionate air. The marriage is on life support, and even though Felix may have given his wife and child Bobs (Billie Gadsen) a sleek, modern home, he’s hardly furnished it with patriarchal little warmth.

As the story unfolds, it turns out that Christine is haunted by an incident in the Philippines years ago, where her clothing was being made in a sweatshop. From the glimpses we get of it in the flashbacks, corners were being cut which led to some sort of tragedy. The guilt is stuck in Christine’s mind and it’s prevented her from returning to her trade. Yet, she’s starting to itch to get back into the biz and aces an interview at the design firm of a friendly colleague.

Helping matters as well is the new nanny who shows up at the house one day. She is sweet-mannered and petite, a young woman named Diana (Chai Fonacier), hailing from the Philippines. It’s apparent that it’s no coincidence she’s arrived, and soon enough, we get flashbacks connecting her to Christine in that not-so-distant past. Still, Diana wants to help and soon enough she’s cooking, walking Bobs to school, and running the household for these uptight Brits. She also helps what’s ailing Christine physically with some old country remedies that seem to soothe the designer’s fraught mind. Despite Felix’s scoffing, as he’s not taken to Diana, the nanny’s black magic seems to be keeping his wife on an even keel.

Throughout the interplay between the family and Diana, Finnegan keeps things percolating with suspicious motives and a burgeoning sense of dread. Is Diana good or evil? And what exactly happened in Christine’s factory? The audience may start to get ahead of the plot here as much of what is to come is either foreshadowed too explicitly, but the fun remains in how frazzled everyone becomes the more Diana is there. Finnegan gives the whole shebang the feeling of those classic 70s horror films like BURNT OFFERINGS or THE OMEN with its tense mix of Brits, family drama, and scares. And no actress does sweaty, tremulous suffering better than Green. Here, she almost tops the supernatural seizures she essayed so vividly throughout the run of John Logan’s underrated Showtime series PENNY DREADFUL.

NOCEBO can play too on the nose at times, but as revenge films go this one feels fresh simply with the casting of Fonacier. It’s a modest production, albeit it one very well-produced, and bobbing along with palpable dread throughout. For fans of the horror or psychological thriller genres, this one should be satisfyingly tense and fun to watch. It’s a genuine sleeper, intriguing and well-acted, particularly by Green. And those ticks will give you the heebie-jeebies for certain.

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