Nocturne (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): A sibling rivalry

“Nocturne”, which was released on Amazon Prime a few weeks ago, is a psychological horror film which has some little fun with its familiar story and characters. Here is a young heroine very eager to go further for her artistic success and satisfaction, but can she possibly accept the price for that, no matter what will happen to her in the end because of that heavy price? Although it is hampered at times by several weak aspects including its rather thin characterization, the movie draws our attention via its good mood and performance, and the overall result is one of better offerings from the partnership between Amazon Studios and Blumhouse Studios.

The story mainly revolves around the rivalry between an adolescent music high school student named Juliet (Sydney Sweeney) and her twin sister Vivian (Madison Iseman), who has studied along with Juliet in the same music high school during last four years. When they became interested in playing piano during their childhood period, Juliet seemed more promising than Vivian, but, after some point, Vivian became more prominent than Juliet, and now she is going to study in the Julliard School after her final year at her music high school.

In case of Juliet, she decides to take a post-graduation break after not getting accepted by the Julliard School, but she still feels unhappy in addition to becoming more jealous of her twin sister, who seems to have everything for becoming a great pianist someday. Besides her considerable talent, Vivian is more confident and outgoing than Juliet, and their parents often show more attention to Vivian while unintentionally overlooking Juliet.

Meanwhile, Vivian and Juliet happen to participate along with other students in an unexpected audition for a crucial part in the upcoming school concert for senior students. Several weeks ago, a very talented student suddenly committed suicide for no apparent reason, but the teachers of the school decide to hold the concert anyway, and they need somebody good enough to fill the spot which originally belonged to that dead student.

Because this looks like the final chance to distinguish herself more than Vivian before the graduation, Juliet chooses to play the same piece of music to be performed by Vivian, but she only finds herself becoming more nervous than before, and her routine medication for suppressing her nervousness does not help her much. Sure, she wants to beat Vivian, but she cannot help but feel inadequate and uncertain as the day of the audition approaches, and she fears that she will only end up embarrassing herself a lot in front of others including Vivian.

On one day, Juliet happens to acquire a mysterious notebook which belongs to that dead student, and then she looks into it just because of curiosity. In addition to the hand-written copy of a certain famous piece of music, the notebook contains a series of disturbing sketches, and, according to what is written on the first page of the notebook, they seem to suggest what will happen along a journey toward artistic greatness.

As she somehow becomes more obsessed with this suspicious notebook, Juliet finds herself a lot more motivated and improved than expected. At the audition, she surprisingly excels herself, and that makes her more confident than before. After clashing with her teacher during their private lesson, she chooses to study under Vivian’s teacher instead, and Vivian is certainly not amused at all as Juliet seems to be rising up to her level.

While it looks like she is finally able to outshine Vivian, Juliet becomes more agitated and pressured as often experiencing strange moments associated with those disturbing drawings in that notebook. After discovering what they may suggest, she is more convinced that she is indeed heading toward artistic greatness she has yearned for, but the death of the notebook’s original owner still remains as an inconvenient fact, just like a missing page in the middle of the notebook.

You can easily guess the content of that missing page in question if you are a seasoned movie audience like me, but the movie steadily holds our interest even while being apparently reminiscent of many other similar films such as “Black Swan” (2010). Although its heroine’s viewpoint becomes more unreliable especially during the second half, director/writer Zu Quirke skillfully dials up and down the level of tension along the story, and we accordingly get several effective moments including the expectedly dramatic finale, which feels eventual instead of predictable.

As the main center of the movie, Sydney Sweeney is convincing as ably conveying to us her character’s increasingly unstable state of mind, and Madison Iseman complements Sweeney well throughout the film. They are particularly good when their characters fully reveal their longtime resentment to each other later in the story, and that is one of the main reasons why the finale works as well as intended.

“Nocturne” is the third Amazon/Blumhouse movie I saw during this month, and its level of achievement is somewhere between “Black Box” (2020) and “Evil Eye” (2020). I must point out that it falters in several aspects including the flat depiction of its mostly functional supporting characters, the movie is still a fun horror flick to be savored for its strong elements, and you may appreciate that as much as I did.

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