Written by: Douglas Aarniokoski, David Loughery
Directed by: Douglas Aarniokoski
Starring: Paz de la Huerta, Katrina Bowden, and Judd Nelson
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďMy schedule's been murder."
With Nurse, it feels like director Doug Aarniokoski has unlocked one of the secrets to making a grindhouse throwback: donít wink so damn much. In it, star Paz de la Huerta gives one of the most bizarre, inhuman performances Iíve ever seen, and Iím not quite sure if itís an intentional choice or if sheís just truly terrible. Refreshingly, the film doesnít offer much of a clue either way, as Aarniokiski has figured out that paying homage to the bygone exploitation era isnít about scratching up footage or planting your tongue firmly in cheekóitís about embracing the gonzo spirit of the age, not thinking about or commenting on it. Like its ancestors, Nurse is committed to cheap, sleazy thrills, and if that entails being a bad movie (which it kind of is), then so be itówe donít have to yuk it up, though.
Nurse is bad in mostly the right ways, though, and, by that, I donít mean that itís ďso bad itís goodĒ or that itís a ďguilty pleasureĒ because those are bogus concepts to excuse yourself from liking something that sucks. On the other hand, this is a film that has no pretenses and nearly finds a sublimity in its commitment to not giving a shit about taste or narrative focus or whateverís supposed to pass as a ďgoodĒ movie.
Consider the opening title, which informs us that the medical field is responsible for more serial killers than any other professions. I have no idea if itís true or not, but I do know itís the perfect sort of exploitative boast for a film that centers on a nurse (de la Huerta) who moonlights as a sociopath committed to murdering unfaithful sleazebags. Just to prove she isnít messing around, nurse Abigail slashes a guy mid-fellatio and shoves him off of a roof. And thatís not even the story hereóinstead, itís all about how Abigail mentors a newbie, Danni (Katrina Bowden), and develops an unhealthy infatuation with her.
So itís Ms. 45 by way of any number of 90s sexual thrillers (Basic Instinct, Single White Female, etc.), and, if Iím being honest, Nurse doesnít separate itself by going where few films have gone before. Donít get me wrongóde la Heurta is often completely naked, and Aarniokoskiís camera leers so often as to incite voyeurism. Thereís a steamy encounter between Bowden and de la Heurta thatís sort of glossed over, and the bloodshed doesnít reach torrential downpour levels until the deranged climax. Still, the real joy is found in how the film casually carries itself: for example, de la Heurta delivers a constant voice-over narration thatís less film noir and more brain damaged recitation, which allows her to nonchalantly muse on her ass-eating and finger-banging exploits from the night before.
Nurse might not be the type of film that shoves its glibness in your face, but it is quite funny. Again, Iím not sure if the film stumbled onto an all-time performance thanks to de la Heurta or if itís a deliberate choice. Either way, itís the center of its gravity: nothing can escape whatever the hell it is sheís up to. Rather than devour the scenery, she purrs and slinks through the proceedings with a performance so detached and deadpan that itís out of this world. Her presence is completely alien, from her bizarre facial expressions to her interactions with other characters, most of which completely defy reality. Sheís as oddly compelling as any horror character in the last few years, if only because de la Heurta is incomprehensibly strange. Iím not convinced sheís of this Earth.
And the best part is nobody notices any of this; in fact, the entire hospital where she works seems to have been spit out as the fetish object from a mind that watched one too many naughty nurse exploitation flicks (not that thereís anything wrong with that, obviously). Youíve got your creepy doctor (Judd Nelson in a requisite stunt casting role), a mouthy receptionist, and an army of sexy, scantily-clad nurses who enjoy spending time disrobing and showering in a locker room. When Danni is drawn into its seedy underbelly, she doesnít seem particularly panicked or confused (perhaps because, as Abigail puts it, she secretly enjoys it), as if nursing school perfectly prepared her for the awkward lesbian trysts awaiting her in the workforce. Bowdenís pretty good as a victim, and her relative innocence and normality contrasts well with de la Heurta, who leaves just enough room for everyone else to carve out some space.
Nurse remains scatterbrained throughout, as even Danni becomes something of an afterthought once sheís fulfilled her duties to the plot by snuffing out Abigailís hilariously trite and predictable backstory. After that, the film hustles to its deranged, blood-soaked climax thatís pure hack-and-slash and little elseónot that Nurse has many more requirements to meet at that point. By then, itís sufficiently whipped its audience into a frenzy of giggles and aweóI imagine itíd be a hoot with the right audience that can appreciate this sort of madness. I sort of love that Aarniokoski has gone the exact opposite route of most grindhouse throwbacks by cloaking Nurse in a sleek studio sheen, so itís deceptively glossy and silky as it peddles its trashy wares. I think he set out to make the best version of this film possible (complete with 3D effects, even!) instead of treating it as a complete and total joke.
Indeed, he hits the goldilocks zone for grindhouse tributes: Nurse knows what itís up to but doesnít feel compelled to stab you in the ribs to make sure you get its silly, over-the-top brand of mayhem. Of course, the downside to making such outsider art (and there is a lurid artistry to how it transforms its hospital into an Argento-flavored hellscape, among other things, like the hypnotic ass shots) is that itís tough to market to theaters, so this oneís due to be discovered and become a cult favorite on home video (which is proper, of course). Luckily, we live in an age where current and future generations wonít have to deal in shady, shoddy VHS tapes, as Lionsgate has preserved it with a nice Blu-ray thatís outfitted with some video diaries, a making-of featurette, and a commentary by Aarniokoski. With rumors that Nurse 2 may be on the horizon, hereís hoping that Aarniokoski realizes how Nurse came together, whether by accident or design, which is to say he should never, ever give de la Heurta any pointers or acting lessons. Just unleash her and let her do her thing, and the rest will work itself out. Buy it!
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