Sydney Sweeney’s time in the spotlight is lasting more than fifteen minutes. With a widely regarded feature in HBO’s controversial but masterful Euphoria, it appears her best is still yet to come, with an announcement recently that she’ll co-star with pop icon Halsey in upcoming adaptation The Player’s Table. Given that resume, scoping out her leading act in new Amazon Prime horror flick Nocturne is a no-brainer. Come for Sweeney, stay for her performance as a troubled classical music student that ends up fucking a little too hard with the demonic.
Part of four ‘Welcome to the Blumhouse’ creations hitting Amazon Prime in time for Halloween, Nocturne does bear a striking similarity to the context of Netflix’s The Perfection. The competitive nature of classical music making way for the sinister is an interesting choice of topic, given the fact that – as Nocturne makes a point to raise – only 1% of music streamed is, in fact, classical. As Sweeney and the cast of The Perfection were to find out, that doesn’t mitigate the intense volatility of the environment in which classical musicians train, though The Perfection takes it into a different direction from Nocturne from that point forward. The two do share a lesson that Shakespeare proclaimed originally, however: “these violent delights have violent ends.”
More of a prophetic warning and less of a prose exaggeration from the Bard himself, Sweeney’s character Juliet learns the price of success at the expense of others is less about winning trophies and more about not being able to forget – or stop – the gory events that got you to centre stage. After finding a notebook that begins to trigger events in her favour, the devil himself appears to be giving our leading lady a helping hand with her vie for a prized concerto. Unfortunately for her, Juliet learns the hard way that while your friendly neighbourhood demons can help you break your sister’s bones, that doesn’t guarantee that her boyfriend will call you back after he has unimpressive sex with you.
While Sweeney’s character isn’t necessarily likeable, audiences are encouraged to make an attempt to empathise with her through lengthy exposition offered up by director Zu Quirke on her troubled relationship with her vocation, her sister, her peers and her mental health. She appears to have had the best of intentions – until she doesn’t anymore – and to have worked tirelessly at her craft to little avail or praise from the people that are meant to have been nurturing her growth. Quirke cleverly cultivates ambiguity around whether it’s Juliet exercising her personal agency that leads her to overkilling her relationship with her own flesh and blood or evil nudging events in that direction. Either way, Quirke allows us to speculate that her actions, while at times repugnant, don’t represent the Juliet that existed before the Hell-sent notebook entered her life.
Dark as it may be, bleak in its setting and abstract in its evil (even mentions of heaven and hell are conjecture at best), Nocturne has something powerful to say. Unlike many of the other Blumhouse films that have tried to force us to learn something, it says it in a delightfully complex way, though not high brow enough to let audiences off the hook for missing the point. Of course, Shakespeare did make that point first.