Aside from found footage and perhaps zombies, the horror film plot that has been overdone more than any other is the “carelessness with the Ouija Board” one. Some films have even combined these (although I don’t think I’ve seen a found footage zombie movie with a Ouija Board…yet). They’re a particular favorite of smaller-budget films. But that doesn’t mean a film where people mess with the paranormal has to be a retread of every other one you’ve ever seen. And if you’re like me, you are still willing to give a film with this overdone plot device a chance. After all, it might be something different, or simply be done well.
I’m happy to report the new film Nocturne (directed by Stephen Shimek and written by Shimek along with Katy Baldwin and Kristi Shimek) strives to bring some depth and intelligence to this realm, and it succeeds quite well.
The set-up is pretty standard if you look at it from a distance. Isaac (Darian Willardson) and Vi (Melanie Stone) are throwing a graduation party. Unfortunately, another party in the same town with a live DJ draws almost all the attention, so only four friends show up: Maren (Hailey Nebeker), Liam (Colton Tran), and Gabe (Jake Stormoen), along with Jo (Clare Niederpruem) who wasn’t expected but “had to get out of the house for a while.” They eat some cake and drink some beers, while Gabe tries to dazzle everyone with his philosophical discussions about religion and superstition (along with his skill at card tricks).
Pretty soon he convinces the others to use the a deck of cards and a wine glass to set up an impromptu Ouija Board and hold a séance. As you might expect, things don’t go exactly as planned, and Gabe’s position that religion and the paranormal are simply magic tricks is soon put to the test.
The first thing that separates Nocturne from lesser films in the same genre is the depth the characters have been given. The history between the six friends (as a group and on a one-on-one basis) is laid out slowly and without any heavy-handedness. And additional personal histories are cleverly dropped now and then. Everybody has their own secrets, their own disappointments, their own plans for the future. Some of the interesting details are important to the rest of the film, and some aren’t…which makes the characters that much better since we learn about them without it necessarily pointing us towards future scenes.
The second thing which makes Nocturne a success is the clever plot. This isn’t a tired 90 minutes of “make you jump” clichés; there’s real intelligence in the writing, and the characters stay true to themselves in their actions. Plus the depth of their development keeps them from being the cut-out generic film cast. But be warned: if you just want to see a bunch of blood and gore and you don’t want to think or pay some attention to a film, Nocturne *is not* for you.
Lastly there’s the strength of the performances. All of the actors do a better-than-expected job. Jo and Gabe have the most meat on their plates, but they handle it well. Hailey Nebeker as Maren is the unexpected stand-out. From the first moment she is introduced you forget she is an actress playing a role; she’s Maren. The smooth and seamless natural subtleties show she is really in touch with her character, beyond what is in the script. Plus she gets a few fun moments to show off her craft.
Keep an eye out for Nocturne (which I backed in a small way on Kickstarter). It’s worth your time. It’s always a treat when a film I back on Kickstarter exceeds expectations, and Nocturne far surpasses what I hoped it would be.