The Beach House (2020) | SHUDDER
Nocturne caught my attention because the trailer looked like a Black Swan-esque psychological thriller. But instead of ballet, the focus is on the highly competitive world of classical pianists. The movie looked even more intense as it focused on twin sisters who are both vying for a spot at Juilliard.
This is the first feature length film for writer and director Zu Quirke and it is an interesting debut to say the least. Quirke doesn’t follow the typical psychological thriller formula. Instead of the main character driven to extremes to be the best like we’ve seen before in movies like Black Swan or Whiplash, Quirke adds in an extra element of a supernatural satanic presence. This satanic presence takes the form of a student’s notebook. The main character, Juliet, finds the notebook and enters into a Faustian agreement of sorts to improve her piano skills. Quirke does a decent job of building tension with odd camera angles and is assisted greatly by timely disturbing music. To signify when something odd is happening, Quirke uses the appearance of a yellow light, which is useful but also a bit of overkill. Overall, Quirke takes some unique risks and crafts an interesting first feature.
Nocturne revolves around two sisters, Juliet (Sydney Sweeney) and Vivian (Madison Iseman) who attend an arts prep school together. They are both preparing for life after high school. Vivian is set to attend Juilliard while Juliet, who didn’t get into Juilliard, is taking a gap year. Both are talented pianists hoping to rise to the top of the competitive world of classical pianists. At the beginning of the movie, one of their fellow students, Moria (Ji Eun Hwang), commits suicide by jumping off a building. The driving force of the movie is an end of year competition to play in a lavish performance for a large audience. Moria had won the competition, but due to her death, they are hosting the competition again. When Juliet hears rumblings that Juilliard scouts will be at the performance, she becomes determined to win the competition. The only problem is that Vivian is the better pianist who will most likely win and Juliet has a hard time dealing with this fact. Somehow Juliet winds up finding Moria’s notebook which has inscriptions and drawings that correlate with the last few weeks of Moria’s life. Juliet’s life eerily begins mirroring some of these drawings. Her “bargain” takes some odd forms and creates a wedge between her and Vivian. The notebook is an odd introduction into the plot and one that at times feels forced. You don’t really understand fully what is happening to Juliet or what is real. The addition of the notebook and the foreshadowing inscriptions didn’t add much to the plot and actually took away from what was the more interesting aspect, the sisters’ relationship.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Juliet, who is played by Sydney Sweeney, is the main focus of the movie. Sweeney proves she is up to the task, crafting an intense performance of a young woman who is determined to be the best. There are a few scenes where Juliet defies the limits and expectations others have for her and Sweeney plays them perfectly. Her seething rage gets unleashed and it’s an admirable performance. Madison Iseman plays Vivian and brings a cool confidence that emanates throughout every scene she’s in. Both do well with the material and their acting is spot on. The characters don’t feel as fully developed as they could be mainly because Quirke spends so much time developing the notebook thread of the film.
'Nocturne' was a unique take on a psychological thriller
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
Despite the presence of a Satanic paranormal-esque entity, there aren’t a whole lot of visual effects. Quirke uses a yellow light to signal the presence of something unusual happening. Other than a vision of Moria with a chunk of her face missing, the visual effects are scant. The make-up and design is minimal, apart from the final scene which is haunting and a bit excessive. Everything works just fine but there is nothing of note to mention here.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
With a movie about classical pianists, I expected the music to be an important part of the movie and it was. The opening scene features Moria playing the violin. It is eerily beautiful and sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Additionally, the piano pieces that are used are incredibly beautiful. If you enjoy piano music at all, you’ll enjoy hearing the selections used. Apart from the diegetic music, the score is perfect for a psychological thriller. It keeps you on your toes and there is an interesting combination of sounds and classical piano pieces that evoke the intense emotions throughout the movie.
Nocturne was a unique take on a psychological thriller. It got a bit convoluted with the heavy reliance on the notebook driving Juliet to act out of character to achieve perfection. There are plenty of references to the Devil throughout the movie which feels a bit heavy handed, especially with the use of the yellow light to reinforce the abnormal events. Sweeney and Iseman put in great performances with the material they were given. The ending will leave you wondering what really happened and contemplating Juliet’s descent into madness. The introduction of the notebook and Satanic presence was an odd twist and one that I’m not sure made the movie any more interesting.
NOCTURNE Is Available To Stream Starting October 13th on PRIME VIDEO