By Justina Bonilla
Blumhouse Television, in collaboration with Amazon Prime Studio, has debuted four new horror films under their Welcome to the Blumhouse banner. Released earlier this month on October 6th and 13th, are four supernatural and suspense-filled horror films, including The Lie, Black Box, Nocturne, and Evil Eye.
One of the films is the gothic influenced classic supernatural horror film Nocturne by writer/director Zu Quirke. Nocturne follows twin sisters and classical pianist Vivian (Madison Iseman) and Juliet (Sydney Sweeny). Envious of always being second best to the talent and popularity that comes so easily to Vivian, Juliet finds an unlikely aid in outshining Vivian, in a deceased classmate’s notebook. However, the supernatural powers it poses is beyond anything Juliet could ever have imagined.
Creating the unsettling yet beautiful visuals of Nocturne is Latinx cinematographer Carmen Cabana. In our exclusive interview with Cabana, we discuss her work, Nocturne, and future professional aspirations.
Cabana is Venezuelan and Colombian. Born in Venezuela, she spent her childhood between both Columbia and Venezuela. Originally she wanted to be a writer, however her talent for storytelling flourished behind the camera. She realized, “Not only do I have a good eye, but I love the collaboration and making the dreams come true for the director.”
At the Art Institute of Los Angeles, Cabana would receive an associate’s degree. To strengthen her cinematography knowledge, “I went nerd”, Cabana joked. She read an array of books, memorized equipment, became a PA (production assistant), and sought out mentorship, some though The ASC (The American Society of Cinematographers).
For Cabana, her first opportunity to display her talents as the lead cinematographer was the Starz television drama series Vida. Vida, created by the show’s creator and showrunner Tanya Saracho, follows two polar opposite Mexican-American sisters, who are reunited in East Los Angeles after the death of their mother. They are forced to deal with the issues between them while re-educating themselves about what a true family is and living back in East Los Angeles.
“[Vida] was a game-changer for me”, Cabana recalled. “I wanted to show the life within the life”. Using vibrant colors and her signature color combinations, she brought to the screen the colors she saw during her exploration of the environment of East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights. Highlighting the beauty of this community, while also showing the candidness of real life. She would bring this knowledge and visual expression to another major series in her career Netflix’s High Fidelity.
Cabana became interested in working on Nocturne for multiple reasons. Most notably, the story, the artistic direction of the film, and the opportunity to work on a Blumhouse film.
After reading the scriptfor Nocturne, Cabana stated, “I could relate to the point we all desire to be perfect in a certain sense, in what we do, and desire that recognition. It’s just so hard to get.” Further stating, “I felt that it was a different type of horror. It wasn’t horror that was based on boo and blood. Nocturne, it’s actually a slow cooking film, it kind of creeps under your skin.” She also saw how Nocturne, “Kind of like Neon Demon was unsettling in the same way. That it doesn’t really scare you but disturbs you.”
“I wanted to get in with the Blumhouse family because I love all of their movies,” Cabana enthusiastically expressed. “That to me was a dream come true.” She hopes to work on other Blumhouse film productions or Blumhouse Television projects in the future.
On evaluating the script for Nocturne, Cabana realized, “On Nocturne, from the script without having a creative discussion with the director, I felt the influence was on anime, particularly Satoshi Kon.” Kon was a respected Japanese filmmaker within the anime and manga culture, best known for the films Perfect Blue, Tokyo Godfathers, and Paprika.
Two films that influenced the visuals of Nocturne were Raw and Black Swan. Cabana elaborated, “[Raw] sort of had that desaturated look and it had a lot of subjective cameras, where it would show her mental state rather than what the situation is”. She continued, “Black Swan is an adaptation of the Satoshi Kon anime Perfect Blue. Nocturne in a way had that similar element of the character wanting to be more and going to her head, and losing herself.”
In terms of the visuals of Nocturne, Cabana noted, “The director and I, we wanted to use the bleach bypass, which is this saturated look that you saw in the environments. It represents the lackluster of [Juliet’s] life.” Further elaborating, “She was always too close to something, but never able to get there.”
Within the film, some colors are strikingly bold. For example, Juliet’s unicorn pajamas symbolized her desire to be the favorite child and to be seen as unique, rather than as second best to her sister. While “Mozart represented what she wanted to become”, Cabana explained. Blood expressed the negative feelings Juliet has, such as revenge and jealously. Other bright colors sprinkled throughout the film represent the paranormal and the world within Juliet’s mind.
Throughout Nocturne there was also a strong use of shadows. However, a creative challenge for Cabana was utilizing an environment of small spaces and bright walls to create shadows. Cabana shared how, “It had to be very precise and very sharp with the lighting, in order to create that mood”. Emphasizing the importance of shadows, Cabana believes, “Shadows are very important because they represent the things that you hide. And the character was just hiding so much, from the world, from herself.”
Inspired by the influence of her own mentorship, Cabana mentors and teaches because she shared, “I love mentoring, teaching and giving back; helping to build the next generation”. In her spare time Cabana teaches master classes and workshops internationally.“
In March of 2019, Cabana started her own production company Cinecabana. She revealed, “[Cinecabana] so far has invested in writers who are developing stories that I am passionate about telling with female leads and a diverse cast”. Further explaining, “I like [famous Hollywood actor and director] Clint Eastwood’s model with what he has done with Malpaso Productions, so I am slowly growing [Cinecabana]”.
For now, Cinecabana is a company Cabana is funding through her cinematography paychecks. However, she sees the possibility of it growing into, “the bridge between incredible stories and financing”.
With the stunning visuals Cabana has brought to the screen, what we have witness is just the beginning of a marvelous career.
Nocturne is available to stream or buy/rent on Amazon Prime Videos.