Film, DVD, Blu-Ray & Streaming Reviews - By Fans For Fans

In NOCEBO, Irish director Lorcan Finnegan reunites with co-writer Garret Shanley to tell the story of a successful fashion designer Christine, (Eva Green), who begins suffering from a mysterious illness. Unexpectedly, Diana (Chai Fonacier), a Filipino carer and faith healer, arrives on her doorstep. Against her husband, Felix’s (Mark Strong) wishes, she allows Diana to stay. Christine becomes reliant on her mysterious guest’s folk healing techniques to cope and is unaware of a dark truth that binds them.


In conversation with FrightFest, Finnegan discussed the differences between an American and British audience, how NOCEBO relates to his previous films, and the decision to combine the supernatural with themes of exploitation and toxic capitalism.


FRIGHTFEST: The audience’s response is unpredictable, so is it impossible to not experience self-doubt?


LORCAN FINNEGAN: The film came out in the US a couple of weeks ago, so we've seen the reaction there. It's mostly good, but culturally different audiences take away different things from films. The UK and US, although English speaking, are still different in terms of taste.


By the time your film is released, there's nothing you can do about it. We’re working on the next one and that's where my mind is. It's like you've raised a little child that has gone out into the world, so you hope people aren’t too nasty.


FF: In what ways do the British and American audience differ?


LF: In terms of this film and maybe even a little bit with VIVARIAN, this isn't to diss the US, but they'll take stuff at face value, without factoring in cultural elements from filmmakers, or from history. A lot of time an American audience will presume that this film is an American film, or by American filmmakers because it's in the English language. They recognise the actors, Eva Green and Mark Strong, and assume it's Hollywood.


NOCEBO is an Irish-Filipino movie, and we've a weird shared cultural history. We're very different culturally, but Ireland was colonised by England, and the Philippines was colonised by the Spanish. Both countries were pagan before Christianity was introduced, which changed our cultures and history, particularly in relation to shamanism and faith healing.


The UK has a strong history of folk horror and folklore. Those elements in the story will probably be appreciated more by a British audience than they will a US audience, that don't necessarily have that cultural or film heritage. Also, in Europe we generally understand one another’s place and history a little better than maybe in the US, where they've grown up in America looking at American content. Not to generalise, but that's my impression from reading reviews of the film.


FF: How do you view NOCEBO in relation to your other films?


LF: A lot of the time it's not until afterwards that you can see the connections. You’re focused on making the film and dealing with all of the difficulties with the production, of getting the financing together and balancing everything else. It's amazing that films ever get made. It would seem when you're starting to make a movie that nobody wants you to make the film [laughs]. There are these constant barriers - constant pain and disappointment. I can see now that there's a connection.


The first thing Garret and I got off the ground together was the short film, FOXES. It was about a young couple trapped in a ghost estate, which were these housing developments that sprung up in Ireland during the boom, and then around the 2008 crash, they ended up being abandoned. The woman escapes through nature, which encroaches on the place.


We expanded that into VIVARIUM, where we removed nature entirely and the couple were stuck in this maze of identical houses. We were having a go at the idea of conforming to societies pre-determined roles for people in a consumer and capitalist way, where there was no nature whatsoever. Everything was devoid and homogenous.


With NOCEBO, we wanted to look at exploitation and the relationship between ancient healing techniques, like shamanism, and the neo-colonial exploitation of a consumerist culture. With shamanism, there's always an element of the supernatural, and with consumerism, or consumerist culture, there's always a clash because it strips everything away for a profit.


Now that we've made the films, I can see that NOCEBO is like the love child of these two movies, but it’s very different as well – it’s more grounded than VIVARIUM.



FF: What motivated you to look eastward for inspiration?


LF: … Garret and I started researching into placebos and nocebos, and through that research we were looking at our own history of wise women in Ireland, these shamans that were respected figures in society. Then, we were looking outwards to see where shamanism still exists. There's the Hmong in Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia, where they still have a history of this. In the Philippines, our research led us to Cebu and Siquijor faith healing, where it's still popular.


After that research trip I was in Sydney, Australia, shooting some commercials. I was staying in Potts Point and every morning I'd go down to the production office. Almost along the entire street, I'd see these wealthy middle-class families leaving their houses, and Filipino nannies arriving to look after their kids. This cycle of rich westerners hiring foreign domestic workers from the Philippines because it’s cheaper, only exists because of capitalism.


There was the Kentex factory fire in 2015, where 74 people were killed. This type of exploitation happens because in a capitalist society, people are less important than [turning a] profit. It’s not only the connection of foreign domestic workers from the Philippines, but the west exploiting the east that led us in this direction.


We pitched the project at the [2019] Macao project market in China because we wanted it to be a proper co-production between Ireland and the Philippines. We met Bianca and Brad from Epic Media, who are based in Manila, and they came on board. There were additional things added to the story that weren't there in the first draft, about their countryside being exploited as well through their own government.


There are American and Chinese companies that are taking minerals and evicting people from the land to mine. The people that live in a small village in rural Cebu, they don't have the legal documents to prove they own the land. They've been living there for thousands of years and they can still be thrown off. When they are, they move to cities to try to find work and are then exploited again, especially in manufacturing jobs that are set up by European companies.




FF: We live in a time when everything needs to immediately explained and understood. NOCEBO teases its audience, placing themes and ideas beneath the surface, especially around who we should identify with. It asks its audience to be patient as it confidently builds to a crescendo, where political themes are developed and the truth is revealed.


LF: Well, that leads into your earlier question about how audiences are reacting. It's difficult to tell. You can only make something that's true to your own taste, and hope that people will have similar tastes. If you pander to audiences completely, then you'll make something that you don't even like yourself, and audiences may not even like.


Garret and I are trying to make films that we want to watch, that involve those complicated themes and switches of allegiance between the characters. It’s a slow burn to an explosive climax, which I enjoy.


I like atmosphere in films, that you can only have if you let the film wash over you - relaxing into something without going on your phone or wanting to Google what happens at the end.


Unfortunately, there's constant competition for the audience’s attention. People are not just relaxing and watching a movie for 90 minutes. It’s just the reality, and all of those screen apps are designed to be addictive – they’re like slot machines.


You just hope that people with similar tastes to us can relax into the film and let it wash over them – enjoy and appreciate the atmosphere, the escalation of events, and the subtle links between various layers of the story.


NOCEBO was released in UK cinemas on the 9thDecember 2022.


Paul Risker.


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Film, DVD, Blu-Ray & Streaming Reviews
By Fans For Fans