During the month of October, Amazon Prime Video is releasing a quartet of films from Blumhouse Television and Amazon Studios. They’re being promoted as horror films, but by my assessment of the four, only one—Nocturne—fits easily into that genre. Which is not to say they aren’t disturbing and quite effective in their own ways. They certainly fit comfortably in the thriller/heavy drama side of your typical Blumhouse offerings, but I’m guessing these are titles that lost or never had a theatrical release date, and now have a home for us to finally view them. The first two titles were released last week, with the remaining two (reviewed here) dropping right now.
Perhaps the least suspenseful or horrifying of the four Blumhouse titles, Evil Eye has the most interesting and culturally specific premise. With a cast of characters all meant to be Indian or Indian-American, the film is the story of two women: a mother, Usha Khatri (played by the always-terrific Sarita Choudhury), living in Delhi, India, and her Americanized grown daughter, Pallavi (Sunita Mani, “GLOW,” “Mr. Robot”), living in New Orleans and tired of her mom trying to push her into getting married before she turns 29. Usha keeps rambling on about a curse that says that Pallavi will never find a husband if she doesn’t marry by 29, though no one really buys this. But none of that matters when Pallavi meets Sandeep (Omar Maskati), a rich tech whiz who seems to be the man of both women’s dreams.
But after hearing her future son-in-law’s voice and seeing a photo of him, Usha becomes convinced that this perfect man is, in fact, the reincarnation of her college ex-boyfriend, a man who put her through hell during and after their time together. Their relationship ended in him dying under mysterious circumstances about which Usha still has nightmares and flashbacks. Everyone including her very understanding husband Krishnan (Bernard White) thinks Usha might be losing it, especially since she’s been having intense headaches, bad enough that she makes an appointment to see a doctor. Pallavi knows nothing of her mother’s dark, traumatic past, but when her mother finally reveals the truth, she thinks her mother is projecting her bad experiences onto this lovely specimen of a boyfriend.
Working from a screenplay by Madhuri Shekar, the directing team of Elan and Rajeev Dassani (making their feature debut as co-directors; Rajeev has directed features before as a solo act) lean hard into Usha’s spirituality and belief in supernatural forces. She’s a praying woman who believes in curses, protective bracelets, and even reincarnation without a second thought, and Choudhury is a strong enough actor to sell the whole package. She combines the psychological tension with a desperate need to protect her daughter, knowing full well Pallavi may never forgive her for a lifetime of pushing her toward marriage and then attempting to discourage this particular man.
Evil Eye isn’t especially scary, and in the end it becomes more of a waiting game to see if/when Sandeep shows his true colors, as well as to find out exactly what happened to Usha and her former boyfriend decades earlier. Neither reveal is especially shocking, but the likability of these performers in a story that embraces both new- and old-world Indian culture makes the film something unique, even if it isn’t particularly thrilling. And the film’s final shot is so unexpected and funny (I’m guessing unintentionally so) that it actually bumps the film up in my eyes a bit because the filmmakers went for something so audacious that it genuinely surprised me. That has to count for something in the often predictable genre space.
In a perhaps not surprising twist of fate, the one film of the Blumhouse quartet that most closely resembles the brand of horror the studio typically releases in theaters turns out to be the weakest entry of the four. Marking the feature debut from writer/director Zu Quirke, Nocturne tells the story of piano-playing teenage fraternal twin sisters, Juliet (Sydney Sweeney) and Vivian (Madison Iseman), both of whom attend an arts academy though only Vivian is good enough to get accepted into Juilliard. But this is a world where Vivian was always shining a bit brighter than Juliet, leaving the latter more reserved and less popular, even between their parents.
In the wake of the school’s virtuoso music student, Moria (Ji Eun Hwang), committing suicide just weeks before a major talent showcase, the administration decides to hold additional auditions to fill the slot. Vivian seems like the obvious choice, but Juliet discovers an eerie notebook that belonged to Moria that contained what appears to be the secrets to performing. Not only does Juliet audition, but she plays the same piece that her sister does and plays it better, which doesn’t get her the spot in the performance, but serves as a wake-up call to the faculty and ignites a nasty sisterly rivalry. As Juliet begins to improve, her personality begins to shift, she begins having increasingly disturbing visions, and evocative drawings in the book begin to come to life, some with bloody consequences.
Is the book a pathway to making a deal with the devil for artistic perfection? Or does it simply amplify Juliet’s long-festering feelings resulting from living in her sister’s shadow? Nocturne doesn’t shy away from the occasional blood flow, and Sweeney’s a strong enough performer to sell both the wallflower and vindictive versions of Juliet. A lot of what transpires in the film is wildly predictable, especially when it comes to Juliet putting the moves on Vivian’s boyfriend Max (Jacques Colimon).
The movie seems more interested in the occasional shock over genuine suspense or any type of deeper psychological terror, and as fun as that can be, it only allows the viewer a limited amount of investment in any of the artistic struggles on display. As visually impressive as Nocturne is at times, it largely feels like a missed opportunity and a letdown in this collection of four variations on the horror or suspense genre.
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