I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Preston Barta // Features Editor
The next batch of titles in Welcome to the Blumhouse – the multi-movie event project conjured up by Blumhouse Television and Amazon Prime Video – is here. The first two installments, The Lie and Black Box, launched last week and were well liked on our end (read here). The subsequent films, Nocturne and Evil Eye, are not quite as strong as a pairing, but they still provide plenty of thrills to keep you excited about the final four entries in 2021.
Stylishly directed by British first-time feature filmmaker Zu Quirke, Nocturne could perhaps be best described as Raw meets Black Swan. Or maybe Half-Blood Prince meets Whiplash? It’s as much about sibling rivalry as it about the dark pressures of perfection. Although you can detect familiar narrative story beats, Sydney Sweeney’s exemplary performance and the film’s examination of destructive ambition are worthy of note.
The character of Julia Lowe is flawlessly brought to life by Sweeney (HBO’s Euphoria), who captures the inter struggles of being second-best when it comes to playing music at her prestigious arts boarding school. However, when she discovers a mysterious notebook that belonged to a recently deceased star soloist, Julia’s tickling of the ivories catches her instructors’ attention. So much so that she begins to outshine the talents of her sister, Vivian (Madison Iseman), as the academy’s top student. What follows is a scary descent into a cutthroat world and a student bleeding for her art.
Julia’s passion for music stretches beyond merely wanting to be successful. She feels becoming the best, achieving a decorated title among the academy, and capturing Juilliard’s interest are the only way to feel complete as a person. There’s a very fine line between passion and obsession, and Julia encounters that line quite early. This dance with the Devil, so to speak, puts her mental health in peril. The pressure of perfection and the frightening premonitions detailed in this notebook put Julia in a hallucinatory, almost out of body state.
How Quirke illustrates the central character’s mind and perception of reality are both unsettling and beautiful. The film’s color palette feels consumed by darkness with its gray tones. The way in which Quirke drifts her camera around her settings, and utilizes a musical score filled with hums and atmospheric sounds, brings about a demonic feeling. At times, it very much seems like Satan himself is orchestrating this symphony of destruction. It doesn’t quite have as much to say as Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, but the strokes of madness are ever-present.
Nocturne thrives on its mood and committed performances. All the components of filmmaking and storytelling give power to those areas. You feel like you’re in a hell on Earth, inside this school. While I wish there were more to be curious about when it comes to its themes and details, there’s enough to grind your teeth down and admire.
It may seem like a big insult to deem Evil Eye an elevated Lifetime movie, but it’s difficult to shake that association with films that center on domestic violence. Even The Invisible Man feels that way, but that doesn’t stop it from being darkly enthralling.
Directed by brothers Elan and Rajeev Dassani – and adapted by playwright Madhuri Shekar from her award-winning Audible Original production – the thriller mixes Indian American culture and psychological terror. Evil Eye is a cross-generational immigrant family story about a mother (Mississippi Masala‘s Sarita Choudhury) who suspects that her daughter’s (GLOW‘s Sunita Mani) new boyfriend may be mysteriously linked to her traumatic past.
Simply put, Evil Eye does a pretty good of easing you into its narrative. It lays down some breadcrumbs at the top to keep your curiosity alive. We see a young woman encounter a horrible situation that ends with blood smeared across a bridge. From there, we jump forward in time to witness a caring dynamic unfold between a mother and daughter, who are on opposite ends of the world.
My fear going into this film was that it would focus primarily on one character’s perspective, but the Dassani brothers share the load and understand both sides of this mother-daughter story. The mother’s scarred past allows us to grasp her worry as a parent. The daughter’s shielding from this truth in her mother’s life causes her to feel that her mother is too concerned and superstitious.
But when the daughter meets this dreamy and wealthy man (Omar Maskati), it seems too good to be true. Everything is going right and is bubbly until the mother notices subtle red flags. The direction that the film ultimately takes may cause you to roll your eyes at first, but the film’s handling of it by its conclusion gives it more value, most notably because of one conversation that encapsulates a very real horror going on in our world.
Although predictable and melodramatic, Evil Eye is a solid enough thriller to see these Welcome to the Blumhouse films continue to explore family and pain themes.
Watch Nocturna and Evil Eye on Amazon Prime Video today. Through a partnership with Fantastic Fest and Fangoria, a watch party event will be held on October 17 and 18. Both evenings at 5:30 p.m. PST / 8:30 p.m. EST, Prime members can attend these exclusive parties (including filmmaker Q&As) via Amazon Video Watch Party. Or, check your local drive-in listings to see if the films are playing in your area.