The most visually pleasing Blumhouse films so far this month is also the least satisfying. “Nocturne” is an exercise in style over substance that doesn’t quite live up to its synopsis.
The bulk of the story takes place at a Musical Arts School where a pair of twins are competing for recognition and an invitation to Juilliard. Both have played piano since a very early age, both are very accomplished, but Juliet (Sydney Sweeney) the younger by a few minutes, lives in the shadow of Vivian (Madison Iseman). Vivian is prettier, more outgoing, more determined, and according to their instructors, the better pianist. With some backhanded advice, Vivian suggests that Juliet should “grow some balls” and be more assertive. Juliet takes this advice to the extreme and begins acting out against everyone she feels has wronged her.
Juliet’s burst of boldness begins small as she copies her sister’s audition piece. She then finds herself in possession of the musical theory book that belonged to another student who recently committed suicide. This is when things get weird. As she pours over the contents of the book, complete with strange artwork and notations, things begin to turn in her favor. There is some power at work, although it’s never fully explained. The synopsis of the film refers to this as a “Faustian Bargain” but there is no deal made, no exchange of value. Sure, she lets her bitterness consume her, but there is no “higher power” pulling the strings. Just a weird notebook that makes weird things happen. There’s also no explanation as to why the previous owner committed suicide. It’s implied that she went through the same things that the notebook predicted, but if that happened someone would have noticed that all these events were more than just coincidence. (And the school would have a staffing problem.)
“Nocturne” is the first feature by writer/director Zu Quirke. It’s apparent that Quirke values the visuals of cinema far more than the storytelling. The artwork, direction, cinematography of this movie are top-notch. It’s a shame that the story is flat, derivative, and a bit pretentious. To quote one of the instructors from the movie, it “missed its chance for greatness.”