Producers: Jason Blum, Lisa Bruce, Marci Wiseman and Jeremy Gold Director: Zu Quirke Screenplay: Zu Quirke Cast: Sydney Sweeney, Madison Iseman, Jacques Colimon, Ivan Shaw, Julie Benz, Rodney To, JoNell Kennedy, John Rothman, Brandon Keener, Miles McKenna, Stephen Fuller, A.J. Tannen, Ji Eun Hwang, Asia Jackson and Phillip Wampler Distributor: Amazon Studios
For lovers of classical music, Zu Quirke provides a few moments that will resonate in her supernatural thriller. At one point Henry (Ivan Shaw), a stern teacher of piano at Lindberg Academy, a prestigious music school, tells his teenaged student Juliet (Sydney Sweeney), who for reasons shortly to be explained has just made some nasty observations about his mediocrity, that she’s already far behind greats like “the Perahias and Pollinis of the world,” which seems exactly the sort of thing he might say.
But such moments are relatively rare. For the most part “Nocturne” is about as silly as the recent music-centered horror movie “The Sonata” was. Few saw that picture; more will probably see this one, as the Blumhouse production is streaming on Amazon Prime. But most will find it a fairly predictable effort.
Juliet, you see, is a lesser virtuoso than her sister Vivian (Madison Iseman), the undisputed star of Lindberg’s senior class after Moira (Ji Eun Hwang), the spectacular violinist who’d been chosen to be soloist in the big end-of-year concert, commits suicide in a most gruesome fashion. Vivian will be selected as her replacement. She also is fortunate enough to have a charismatic boyfriend, a cellist named Max (Jacques Colimon). And she’s been accepted at Juilliard, as Juliet has not.
By contrast Juliet is shy and, as far as boys go, rather a wallflower, though she clearly has eyes for Max. Vivian also has the better mentor—Henry, who might be a demanding sort, reminding his pupils that “music is a blood sport” in which they should do whatever it takes to excel. Juliet is stuck with Roger (John Rothman), who has a modest view of her abilities and insists that she stick with Mozart rather than try anything new.
As events prove, Juliet would have been wise to follow his advice. But she finds a notebook containing a strange piece of music, accompanied by curious drawings surrounded by words that seem to be in some form of code (which, it turns out, is broken with absurd ease). The illustrations, as it turns out, convey the stages by which an acolyte can achieve the highest mastery in performance. The idea is a juvenile version of the tale about Niccolo Paganini that Bernard Rose told not long ago in “The Devil’s Violinist,” a movie probably seen by even fewer people than “The Sonata.” As for the music, have you ever heard the legend behind Tartini’s “Devil’s Trill”? A similar situation applies here, and apparently Moira was the last person to possess the notebook.
What transpires is fairly predictable. As she becomes more and more obsessed with the new music, Juliet becomes a different person—imperious, self-confident, and competitive. At an unauthorized senior party out in the woods, she takes advantage of the increasing animosity between her and Vivian to precipitate an accident that leaves her sister with a broken arm. That gives her the chance to take over the soloist slot at the big concert. But as Moira learned, embrace of the notebook comes at a price.
As with all Blumhouse product, “Nocturne” was made on a modest budget, but visually it’s fairly impressive, with a production design (Cecil Gentry) and cinematography (Carmen Carbana) that are better than the norm in such fare. Quirke and editor Andrew Drazek keep things running reasonably smoothly, though the repeated “supernatural” interruptions grow tiresome. And Sweeney’s strong performance anchors things, while Colimon adds some generalized energy. (Iseman, by contrast, finds it hard to make much of her underwritten character.) Shaw and Rothman gamely etch figures whose own professional accomplishments were sufficiently undistinguished that they led to teaching careers.
As is usually the case in films that depend on a piece of music that’s supposed to be extraordinary, the titular nocturne is a thoroughly unexceptional piece. The same can be said of the movie as a whole, though Quirke shows promise and Sweeney is impressive.