Saturday, February 8, 2014

Turn Your Head and Die: "Nurse" pumps up the trash and camp just enough

Nurse (2014)
84 min., rated R.

If it's trashy, crimson-spraying thrills and sexy health-care providers you're after, look no further than the enjoyably twisted "Nurse" (known as "Nurse 3D" for theatrical distribution). The makers know exactly what kind of movie they were making and never pretend it to be high art. Inspired by Lionsgate marketing exec Tim Palen's boldly sensational one-sheet of a naked nurse bathed in blood, itself inspired by a controversial Time cover, the film is unyieldingly fleshy and blood-spattered trash. An erotic-killer exploitationer with no other intentions than to shock and titillate, "Nurse" certainly presses enough primal, perverse pleasure buttons with a nutty cheekiness, even when it adheres too closely to formula that of any "____ from Hell" thriller, particularly "Single White Female." Writer-director Douglas Aarniokoski (2011's "The Day") and co-writer David Loughery (2009's narratively similar "Obsessed") don't seem to go as deliriously far as they could have with their R rating, but make up for it with their secret weapon: an unhinged, uninhibited Paz de la Huerta.

"This job is more than sticking thermometers in butts and looking pretty." Abigail Russell (Paz de la Huerta) is "nurse of the month" at New York's All Saints Hospital who lives to heal others and satisfies her own sadomasochistic desires. She self-proclaims that she dresses like a slut "to lure the dangerous predators who walk among us," making it her mission in life to butcher all lecherous, philandering men. After mentoring first-week nurse Danni Rogers (Katrina Bowden), Abby cozies up to the pretty newbie, taking her out to a nightclub and drugging her into having a threesome, with some blackmail photos in case Danni rejects her. Naturally, the vindictive nurse grows so attached to Danni that she will stop at nothing to be her protector from her cheating therapist stepfather, Dr. Larry Cook (Martin Donovan), and skeevy Dr. Morris (Judd Nelson), as well as Danni's loving EMT boyfriend Steve (Corbin Bleu). Once Danni finally wakes up and smells the insanity, Abby will have to start worrying about her own skin when the hospital's overly cheerful new HR administrator (Melanie Scrofano) says she resembles an old neighbor who was thrown into a psychiatric ward. 

By design, "Nurse" is purposely bonkers and over-the-top, so if you want to take it seriously, look elsewhere. The plot is derivative and thin as a scalpel. The dialogue is sometimes obscenely bad, but it's a hoot, usually in the name of knowing camp and sly gallows humor. Told in noir-style voice-over narration by our enigmatic Angel of Mercy, the film would like to get inside the head of the screw-loose, man-hating Abby, but the character mostly boils down to an obsessive, certifiably nuts femme fatale who ticks due to a sordid incident from her childhood. Pursing her lips, flirting, and slinking around in her skimpy white nurse uniform (or no clothing at all, depending on Abby's mood), the buxom Paz de la Huerta is decidedly committed to vamping and sexing it up. It's one bizarre, deliciously so-bad-it's-good performance, and next to "Fatal Attraction's" Alex Forrest and "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle's" Peyton Flanders, Abigail Russell is a seductive, demented psycho to remember. The rest of the cast is fine with what they have to do, Katrina Bowden occasionally coming off too earnest and the men having equal opportunity for toplessness as the women. Niecy Nash, as a fellow wisecracking nurse, also supplies some intentional laughs, but it's too bad Kathleen Turner shows up as a head nurse for one scene of shooting and has no interaction with Abby.

Stylishly shot with plenty of aerial cityscape shots (Toronto standing in for N.Y.C.), the film may be sick and sleazy in content, but it's quite a slick-looking package. Syringes, scalpels, and defibrillators surely come out to play, and cued to a jaunty tune, there's a bone-saw amputation by the naturally bottomless Abby. Copious bloodshed and a badass catfight aren't forgotten, either, although both are relegated to the final 15 minutes. That old thriller stand-by—where the killer disappears the moment someone turns his or her back for a split second—is frustratingly deployed more than once, but a clever turn with the sole gentleman, Abby's shaggy, cadaver-transporting neighbor Jared (Adam Herschman), and the gleefully offbeat punchline with a smiley-face sticker make things right. Having as much need for psychological nuance as it does for clothing, "Nurse" is what it is and will survive a run with a midnight-movie crowd seeking ridiculous, mad-as-a-hatter fun. It should be balls-to-the-wall, but it's more like balls-to-the-baseboards.

Grade: B - 

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