Nicole: Review. By Will Steele.
The current cinematic landscape seems overpopulated with complex narratives desperately trying to pack as much plot and pace into their runtimes as humanly possible. So it is truly refreshing whenever a new release refrains from overstuffing, overcomplicating and overwhelming its audience. James Schroeder’s Nicole is a slick comedy horror which simply styles itself as ‘the story of a first date gone wrong’. From this small promising premise grows a horror which will get under your skin.
Nicole follows the daily routine of the eponymous lead who seems incredibly aloof and isolated from the world around her. She’s an unabashed alcoholic whom we begin to sense is coping for past traumas she has suffered. Between glugs of liquor, Nicole inspects a knife she sheaves giving us a tantalising glimpse of the direction her day may take. Tamika Shannon initially plays Nicole with tactical reserve and only gradually reveals her true motivations. Shannon plays the awkward encounters between herself and her colleagues with an authentic unease which only heightens the tension throughout the film.
Director James Schroeder employs a striking visual motif to jolt the narrative from reality to daydreams by shifting between monotone and colour. What at first seems purely stylistic comes to add significant ambiguity as the plot progresses. What Schroeder communicates without uttering a word, but by merely altering the colour, invites the audience to engage in the narrative and draw their own conclusions. Any films however big or small which respects its audience and doesn’t spoon-feed them is yet again refreshing.
The choice to situate this horror around at first date proves fruitful. Nicole is meeting John for the first time – a man who swiftly shows himself to be manipulative, sinister and downright criminal. He plays into the archetypal misogynistic predator which we have come to recognise more and loathe. This creates a real palpable threat for Nicole only heightening the stakes. The imbalance struck between Nicole and John on their date serves as a tantalising precursor to the inevitable descent.
Much like Promising Young Woman, Nicole explores the fear inherent in a misogynistic society for women. Comparisons between the two films are inevitable, but thankfully they are divergent in the avenues they choose to explore. Schroeder deserves praise for a delicate balancing act of tone within Nicole as he introduces elements of comedy and horror throughout this social commentary. Once the horror-comedy elements take hold, we aren’t abruptly taken there as the temperature has been gradually rising throughout the film. Some may find this blends of tones and genres jarring but most will recognise the subtle game being played.
Nicole makes for memorable viewing despite its brief 75 minute runtime by delving deeply into the small and simple story it chooses to tell. Smooth tonal shifts and clear intuitive aesthetics allow Nicole to shift between genres, styles and situations with ease. It is an effective comedic social satire whilst crucially succeeding in evoking genuine terror which may make you wince and squirm in your seat. James Schroeder tells a simple story successfully which is what Independent cinema does best.
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