‘Nocturne’ looks great but it’s a little off-key

“Nocturne” – “From their struggles to establish dominance over each other, siblings become tougher and more resilient.” – Adele Faber

“Siblings that say they never fight are most definitely hiding something.” – Lemony Snicket

Vivian (Madison Iseman) and Juliet (Sydney Sweeney) have played the piano for practically their entire lives.  Writer/director Zu Quirke establishes this absolute fact during the first few minutes of “Nocturne”, as we see the girls striking 88 keys as toddlers through high school in a dreamy montage.

Practicing for three hours a day for 15 years (or so), these talented, dedicated fraternal twins could be destined for illustrious classical music stages, performing in the world’s most glamorous cities.   Although at the moment, only one sister takes that first step.  Vivian – older by two minutes – got into The Julliard School, while Juliet fell short, so she plans on taking a gap year after graduation.

She’s hurting.

Then again, this isn’t the first time that life’s grand plan stung Juliet, as this reserved, risk-averse young lady regularly misses out on the joys of youth, while her popular sis smiles 24/7 and enjoys a relationship with her boyfriend Max (Jacques Colimon).   Objectively, we’re still not sure how Vivian squeezes in masterclass musicianship with her busy, fruitful social calendar, and neither does Juliet, to her dismay.

Perhaps a little chutzpah and a time management class would help this younger twin.

Well, Juliet finds the former through supernatural means in this stylish – but flawed – thriller wrapped in rivalry and jealousy within the walls of Lindberg Academy, a prestigious, posh, brand-new boarding school built on a foundation of icy, gray bricks and truckloads of cold, hard cash.

Hey, Quirke’s film looks great, as she and cinematographer Carmen Cabana paint an unfamiliar secondary school setting.  Lindberg isn’t Vermont’s historic Welton Academy of “Dead Poets Society” (1989) or Southern California’s Ridgemont High.  It’s chilly and distant, like the New York City Ballet Company in “Black Swan” (2010).  The narrative shares parallels with Darren Aronofsky’s picture too, because high-stakes competition blurs the lines between reality and nightmares.

“Nocturne” does have the building blocks of a compelling thriller.  Sweeney turns in a convincing, nuanced performance shrouded in insecurity, danger, and psychological breakdowns; however, her paranormal instigator is less than inspirational.   A simple journal – containing several pagan symbols that one might find in any Mastodon album cover – is the devil on her shoulder that unleashes bizarre visions of – literally – blinding sunshine.  Lindberg could use some positive energy, but this intruder has all the warmth of “The Twilight Zone” episode “The Midnight Sun” (1961).

Nevertheless, the spirits emerging from spiral notebook aren’t that unsettling, at least to this critic, but – admittedly – homework was sometimes intimidating back in the day.  Well, on this day, the production tries to engender a spooky atmosphere, but Juliet’s arc is pretty obvious, and it takes so long to get there – even with just a 90-minute runtime.  Throw in an emotionally tone-deaf teacher (Ivan Shaw) and Vivian and Juliet’s clueless parents (Brandon Keener and Julie Benz) who offer inadvertent laughs, and the movie plays like a curiosity rather than the film’s intentions.

“Nocturne” is a little off-key.

⭐⭐  out of  ⭐⭐⭐⭐

(“Nocturne” is available on Amazon Prime Video streaming.)

Image and Trailer credits:  Amazon Prime Video

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