Christine’s hands shake as she opens a childproof pillbox. She suffers (or has suffered?) from a litany of psychosomatic ailments, including rashes, nerve pain and headaches. Christine says her symptoms go away immediately every time she sees a doctor. Now, a stranger, Diana (Chai Fonacier), has arrived at Christine’s house and offers to help Christine with everything, including three square meals for Christine’s suspicious husband Felix (Mark Strong) and sulky daughter Roberta (Billie Gadsdon ). Diana also says she can help heal Christine. “Something is hidden inside of you, Christine,” Diana said. “Something you are hiding.” Achieving that “something” takes too much effort, and the end result isn’t quite as satisfying as the vague uncertainty that often overwhelms Christine and Green’s performances.
Director Lorcan Finnegan and screenwriter Garret Shanley try to tap into a rich vein of horror by focusing on the brain fog that defines Christine’s personality. Without explicitly talking about COVID, “Nocebo” evokes current fears of physical infirmity and bodily autonomy. For example, the face mask Christine wears to help her sleep looks suspiciously like a hospital respirator. There’s another kind of topical twist at the end of “Nocebo.” Christine’s complete loss of perspective is ultimately disappointing because she’s bland and bloodless, and oddly didactic in a way that suggests she, and therefore we, aren’t focused on what’s really wrong in today’s world. A few nightmarish signs and omens – a milky-eyed dog, oversized woodlice – must also make a big symbolic effort. Unfortunately, they’re used so sparingly that it’s all too easy for viewers to emotionally check out key scenes where Christine’s health and sanity further deteriorate.
Yet Christine’s nearsightedness is striking at first and often portrayed in a way reminiscent of the claustrophobic staging of “Repulsion” and “Rosemary’s Baby.” The walls of Christine’s house – and of the car, and of the world – have already closed in on her. Now only Diana can reopen things. His fate is also reminiscent of older horror movies, especially the exoticism and tenderness of Val Lewton-produced B-movie classics “I Walked with a Zombie” and “The Curse of the Cat People.” Diana is a reserved Filipino nanny who knows a lot, but doesn’t say much about what’s wrong with Christine. Christine is still mostly blamed for Diana’s cryptic behavior as Christine repeatedly shows and tells us that she is not ready to face her past. “I don’t want to see,” she tells Diana in Cebuano, as if to underscore this talking point by literally speaking Diana’s language. Unfortunately, while Diana and Christine’s bond is definitely chilling, it’s never memorably expressed. They talk a lot about trust because Christine needs to trust Diana if she ever wants to feel better. This power dynamic bothers Felix because, uh, who is this woman, and why is she sleeping in her guest room now? The answer to this question is not so impressive conceptually.