Nocturnal, by director/writer Nathalie Biancheri, has a suspenseful surprise that turns creepy horror into emotional drama.
In the Darkby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Laurie (Lauren Coe) is a lonely 16-year-old schoolgirl who spends her evenings training on a running track. She and her mother (Sadie Frost) have recently moved from Ireland to a down-at-heel northern seaside town. Pete (Cosmo Jarvis), a 33-year-old painter and decorator we have already seen as an irresponsible, insensitive would-be stud, obsessively watches her through the fence. Eventually, after verbal sparring about the dangers of getting in a car with a serial killer, they meet up on a late-night date.
Both of them seem friendless: they strike up an unlikely and rather sinister kind of friendship despite the age difference. Though Laurie’s feelings may be clearer, Pete’s are not. He’s inarticulate and hard to understand and he introduces the young girl to unsuitable drinking and smoking. This relationship doesn’t look likely to end well: but perhaps under Pete’s brutish exterior there are more sensitive emotions not under his control? When he decorates a little girl’s bedroom there’s a hint.
There’s a scene midway that may signpost you to guess what lies beneath but in the second half the film goes off in unexpected directions and it’s not the film it appeared to be at first. It’s best not to know any more about it before seeing it – which you must do!
Cosmo Jarvis, one of the best of current young British actors, brilliantly plays a rather similar brutal, conflicted character to that in Calm With Horses: he’s well matched by Lauren Coe as the initially sassy teenager. The film, by director/writer Nathalie Biancheri, is downbeat yet compelling. The shabby town is shot in what seems like perpetual night, relieved by the garish lights of amusement arcades (an atmospheric shortcut reminiscent of other first films set in out-of-season seaside towns). But Nocturnal is a little film well worth seeing for its suspenseful mood, its look, its performances and its emotional resolution.
Nocturnal premiered at the BFI London Film Festival and is released on 18 September 2020 in the UK.