Gemma Creagh looks back at Lorcan Finnegan’s Psychological thriller, Nocebo.

A nocebo is like a placebo, except it elicits harmful side effects and encourages the worsening of symptoms on the body, something director Lorcan Finnegan took an interest in while researching for this film. Much like his last surreal cinematic offering, Vivarium, Finnegan once again teams up with writer Garret Shanley and takes a strong concept boiling it – somewhat stylishly – down to its most fundamental parts. In terms of handling the subject matter in a way that’s as sensitive and authentic as possible in this co-production with the Philippines, Lorcan included local creatives, producers and talent across the writing and production phases.

In her big house, with her rich husband and private school educated daughter, fashion designer Christine (Eva Green) has an enviable life steeped in privilege. However, after receiving devastating news about her business, she suffers a breakdown, something worsened by the mysterious illness that manifests after a supernatural tick bite. Months later, and Christine is clamouring to find work, but between the fits, aches and tremors, she’s barely able to function, let alone care for her daughter Bobs (Billie Gadsdon).

Just as a big job offer comes in, Filipina nanny Diana (Chai Fonacier) arrives at Christine’s door promising to help, and this elicits suspicion from the man of the house. Felix (Mark Strong) objects as Diana starts to perform folk remedies, but Christine becomes adamant she wants to continue as her symptoms subside. The friction in the household escalates as Christine becomes dependent on Diana’s treatments and it soon becomes apparent that Diana’s motives aren’t quite as altruistic as first presented. 

It’s not often in a tension-led physiological thriller that you root for a character who was initially offered as the antagonist figure. Yet, after the first act, that’s exactly what happens – a bait and switch. The focus moves from Christine and instead examines the backstory of Diana through a series of flashbacks. It’s through her life in the Philippines, that Nocebo takes a rather unsubtle swipe at how global capitalism exploits developing nations with grave consequences. In many ways.Christine is the microcosm of all privilege, something illustrated perfectly in one scene where she smiles knowingly as she corrects her daughter, showcasing her self-perceived cultural sensitivity: “it’s not Chinese food.” Cringe.

It’s a very contained film, which adds to the claustrophobic feel and compounds Christine’s descent. While the calibre of performer is high across the small cast, the energy of the lead performances doesn’t always match. As talent, Fonacier is the standout, however, she shifts and changes continuously as the script demands. The simplicity of Nocebo, the sharp, tense pacing, works well, making this a satisfying social commentary and an enjoyable watch.

Nocebo is available to stream online now.


Gemma Creagh is a writer, filmmaker and journalist. In 2014 she graduated with a First from NUIG’s MA Writing programme. Gemma’s play Spoiling Sunset was staged in Galway as part of the Jerome Hynes One Act Play series in 2014. Gemma was one of eight playwrights selected for AboutFACE’s 2021 Transatlantic Tales and is presently developing a play with the Axis Theatre and with the support of the Arts Council. She has been commissioned to submit a play by Voyeur Theatre to potentially be performed in Summer 2023 as part of the local arts festival. Gemma was the writer and co-producer of the five-part comedy Rental Boys for RTÉ’s Storyland. She has gone on to write, direct and produce shorts which screened at festivals around the world. She was commissioned to direct the short film, After You, by Filmbase and TBCT. Gemma has penned articles for magazines, industry websites and national newspapers, she’s the assistant editor for Film Ireland and she contributes reviews to RTE Radio One’s Arena on occasion.

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