Released: 13th October
Seen: 17th October
The term Faustian Bargain dates back to German legends that told the tale of a man named Faust who, while bored, called on the devil and made a deal to give Faust knowledge and magic powers. The Devil, being a swell chap, said “Sure but eventually I’m taking your soul for this” and they made a deal. Well, SURPRISE, turns out the Devil is a bit of a dick and Faust’s powers actually ended up corrupting him as a person and soon he was dead and in hell where he became the Devil’s plaything because that’s what happens when you make a Faustian Bargain. This legend is the basis of many horror stories, including Nocturne which is another entry in the Welcome to the Blumhouse Anthology which is an anthology I’m slowly realising is made up of films that Blumhouse probably didn’t think they could sell to a mainstream cinema market so they threw them on Amazon and hoped for the best.
Nocturne follows duelling sisters Juliet (Sydney Sweeney) and Vivian (Madison Iseman). Juliet is desperate to get into Juilliard but keeps coming up short compared to her sister. After a horrific suicide happens at their school, Juliet finds the victims notebook and in its pages is some form of ritual. One by one Juliet finds herself performing this ritual, almost accidentally, and the more she does the better a musician she becomes and the better she becomes the worse her sister gets. Soon Juliet could be the best pianist in her school and make her dreams come true, unless some mystical being comes to collect on what is owed.
Filled from head to toe with some truly interesting imagery, Nocturne has a lot to offer right off the bat. With its wild use of lighting and framing, combined with some fun demented imagery (someone walking around with a fistful of blood-soaked tampons hasn’t looked this unnerving for a while) you can really tell that the people making this had a good idea on how to make something that was visually unnerving. If we just judged a film on how interesting and creepy it was visually, this film would be a slam dunk… the problem is that, while this is a visual medium, story and acting and dialogue and tone all matter too and here they’re just all kinds of not quite right.
The story itself should be relatively simple, girl makes wish to be better than her sister and she gets it but strange things make it not worth what it cost and while that is the story we’re telling it, they make it more complicated than it has to be by throwing in the notebook with images that line up to events in the real world and a bit about Juliet changing her teachers (which felt like it was implying that the second teacher was the devil who the deal was made with, but ended up not doing that) and a thing involving Vivian’s boyfriend who really doesn’t factor into the movie at all. It over complicated things and didn’t follow through with most of them, leaving the film feeling unfinished.
This plot issue also meant that the momentum of the film stopped and started again and again. It’s kind of boring until we got the sudden sharp jolt of an interesting image, before going back to being a little slow and then another jolt worthy image. The slow points weren’t even that interesting, no trying to understand what was going on (except for one scene) and no real work on the characters who all felt kind of bland. We’re lucky that there’s quite a few moments where a strange or unnerving image or bit of lighting will jolt the attention back, but it feels like a struggle at times to really keep interest in the film.
Nocturne has some good ideas and the hint of potential, but just doesn’t quite get there. It starts strong but loses its way and never quite gets back on track. It’s got promise, that much is undeniable but it never quite fulfills that promise.