Amazon Streaming: Music is a Bloodsport: Nocturne (2020)


If you enjoyed the recently excellent The Perfection, Nocturne might appeal to you, although it has its own story and selection of horrific tropes in the cutthroat world of music, specifically the intense disciplines of classical music.

Twins Vivian (Madison Iseman) and Juliet (Sydney Sweeney) are very gifted pianists. They silently compete to be the best at their current institution to qualify for the prestigious Juilliard School. After a violin prodigy at their school, not so endearingly nicknamed Mad Moria, unexpectedly commits suicide, the less accomplished sister, Juliet, finds herself the unwitting recipient of Mad Moria’s notebook. She soon realizes that the notebook contains archaic references to an occult practice pertaining to some Faustian pact.

Vivian, two minutes older, is everyone’s sweetheart with a genuinely casual character, while Juliet has anxiety issues she takes medication for and generally feels inferior to her sister. This establishment is the perfect set-up for a rather twisted sequence of events that gradually leads Juliet into her own insidious nature. Sweeney successfully portrays her Juliet with a bland, but morose constant. At first, we are not sure if she is just a boring actress, but as the story continues, we realize that this precisely the nature of her character – the invisible, but emotionally unstable wallflower. Watching her actually instills a depressing feeling of dismay with sporadic flares of rebellion from hopelessness in the trappings of her low self-esteem.


Nocturne is dark and dramatic, dealing with the very real aspects of competition, envy and sibling rivalry. Although the latter uses twins to remind us that both girls started as equals, the film explores very little in the way of twin relations. In fact, it presents us with something I, as a musician, have always been fascinated with – The Devil’s Trill. The film revisits the mythos of the diabolical element in Tartini’s Violin Sonata in G minor by implying that it has more effect on the musician’s soul than just the striking technical difficulties of its passages.

Apart from the occasional procession of surreal sequences that feels like a chunk from Suspiria, there is some solid social commentary about the friction of young adulthood and its awkward hostility in a group-paradigm that builds on Juliet’s already fragile sensibilities. These reactions create a tense build-up while we watch Juliet squirm to plug the holes of her mental sinking ship with the notebook dictating her every move.

Nocturne is subtle and does not resort to cheap thrills to push us into the abyss. The lighting plays a big part in leading the audience toward the lurking evil. The use of colorful shadow play works well with the mood and changes accordingly as the story grows darker. Juliet’s rollercoaster relationships with her sister’s group of friends will remind you of Carrie, but it stays true to itself. Nocturne’s score keeps track of every scene’s unique narrative, helping to build on the mounting tension. Having said that, Nocturne somehow feels dull and uninspired in places, but it is hard to find a tangible reason for this.

Writer/director Zu Quirke establishes herself as a proficient filmmaker in this, her debut feature. There is no doubt that she has an eye for dramatic detail in setting and mood. She certainly knows how to use emotional impact to justify the fraying of the human psyche.

Nocturne is not for popcorn-jump-scare junkies, but more of a dark journey into the depths of desire and what wickedness we would resort to in order to achieve success.

--Tasha Danzig