GORE IN THE STORE
Directed by Zu Quirke.
Starring Sydney Sweeney, Madison Iseman.
Horror, US, 90 minutes, certificate 15.
Steaming on Amazon Prime now.
Sibling rivalry takes a sinister turn in a prestigious school for performing arts in the mysterious and measured NOCTURNE, the fourth in the Welcome to the Blumhouse season of films shared on Amazon Prime. The directing debut of Zu Quirke tells the tale of Juliet, played by Sydney Sweeney, twin sister to Vivian. While both are training classical pianists the more outgoing and popular Vivian also seems to be the more talented of the pair, leaving the quiet Juliet in the shadows. However, when Juliet discovers a notebook of a recently deceased student who committed suicide, her competitive streak finally raises its head but the same mysterious forces that could have been behind the suicidal students’ talents may also be coming for Juliet.
The last of the Blumhouse/Amazon films is also the best. Whilst that may not be saying much due to the rest of the films being a pretty weak bunch that barely strayed into horror territory this debut feature from British director Zu Quirke has much to recommend in comparison to its stablemates. Its slowburn storyline is complimented by Carmen Cabana’s visually arresting chilly photography that often blazes into full on hallucinatory colour as Juliet’s rise in talent is accompanied by a slide into mental instability whilst the score by Gazelle Twin illustrates this further with its scratchily thrumming and shrieking soundtrack.
The script, also written by Quirke may come across as a bit lifeless and one note however. Any horror film involving students in the performing arts is either going to end up being compared to SUSPIRIA or BLACK SWAN. Whilst it never reaches the dizzying hallucinatory heights of those films it still manages to hold the viewers interest with Quirke’s choice of telling her own story quietly and patiently.
Such a storytelling choice could fall apart if her lead characters journey into the films themes of familial jealousy and psychosis under pressure was not up to the task. Thankfully Sydney Sweeney proves that she is more than able here with her quietly powerful performance. Her Juliet is sympathetic throughout as she struggles to put up with her possibly manipulative sister, or “womby” as she annoyingly refers to her throughout. Although it must be said that the character of Vivian is given more shades than the stereotypical mean sister role thanks to Maidson Iseman’s performance. Their double act contains enough that is recognisable to those close family members who nevertheless experience their own flare ups of tension and anger.
It will be interesting to see where Quirke goes from here if she chooses to explore similar themes in the horror genre. Will she refine her writing and directing eye to the more subtle and psychological end of things or will she decide to take the more full-on approach of hallucinatory storytelling that culminates here in a haunting final shot that lingers long with the viewer long after it fades to black. Hopefully, the results will prove as interesting, if not more so, than this debut and hopefully the chance to see it on a large cinema screen will also be provided.