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Kicking off the second batch of Welcome to the Blumhouse, the horror outfit’s collaboration with Amazon, Nocturne (★★★★☆) is played firmly in the key of Black Swan, and it is a confident interpretation. The setting isn’t ballet, but an elite music academy where out-of-sorts pianist Juliet (Sydney Sweeney) looks sure to be eclipsed by her outgoing twin (Madison Iseman) in a competition to decide the school’s year-end concerto soloist. Then she stumbles on a notebook – covered in esoteric scrawls depicting a satanic pact – that belonged to the competition’s original winner, who recently jumped off her balcony. Juliet is suddenly fired up to take on Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No 2, aiming to gazump her sister, who is playing the same piece. It’s the most sanity-threatening keyboard pick since Rachmaninov’s Third in Shine.
British debut director Zu Quirke doesn’t skimp in her duel of the doppelgangers. She chucks in everything from untimely menstruation to boyfriend hijacking to a sadistic but suave maestro (Ivan Shaw), à la Red Shoes, who seems to exist to stoke Juliet’s dark desires. “Music is a bloodsport,” he says.
Sweeney sometimes overplays her crescendo scenes, but is effective in quieter stretches, brimming with sour-faced ill intent. It gives space for the refined timbre built up by Quirke: from an opening, beautifully lit suicide scene reminiscent of Park Chan-wook’s florid moments, to the edgy sound design. Nocturne is simpatico with a protagonist who, in lieu of greatness, decides to steal – then play it like she owns it. An elegant, forking finale proves as much.
Welcome to the Blumhouse has so far upheld the company’s impressive record on diversity-minded casting and story choices, from Get Out to the recent “Hasidic horror” The Vigil. But Evil Eye (★★☆☆☆) shows that representation alone isn’t enough. Twin-brother directors Elan and Rajeev Dassani bed a supernatural-tinged thriller in the practice of Indian arranged marriage: New Delhi matriarch Usha (Sarita Choudhury) frets across the time zones about her daughter Pallavi’s (Sunita Mani) matrimonial prospects in California. But Usha isn’t happy when Pallavi meets sensitive tech bro Sandeep (Omar Maskati); despite the fact he ticks every box going, the mother is convinced his family’s women are bound to inescapable tragedy.
It initially feels as if Evil Eye is going to overplay its Hindu cultural angle. But it plays cat and mouse with cliches about Indian superstitions, suggesting there may be a secular explanation for Usha’s fears. The trickiness here is the source material: Madhuri Shekar’s audio play, which was told almost entirely in phone conversations and voicemails. It does not translate naturally to the screen, imposing a tension-sapping metronomic alternation between scenes set in India and the US, and dialogue-heavy slugging matches between mother and daughter drag the film deep into the melodrama zone. With scant visual bite, perhaps it should’ve been called Evil Ear.
• Nocturne and Evil Eye are on Amazon Prime Video from 13 October.
Source: The Guardian
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