Directed by Doug Aarniokoski
Distributed by Lionsagte
There aren’t many films made today that can challenge the reign of Showgirls (1995) as the preeminent example of trash cinema done so gloriously right. Truthfully, few can capture the notoriety and media buzz that picture enjoyed (endured?), but in terms of reaching for the stars from a comfortable position in the gutter there haven’t been many spiritual successors… until writer/director Doug Aarniokoski delivered Nurse 3D (2013). This is one of those films that, when asked to describe what occurs, your mostly likely response is likely to be “where do I begin?” Half the fun is wondering if viewers are supposed to be taking things seriously or if tongues should just get a vacation spot in cheeks. The film never entirely embraces the schlocky universe it’s operating within, however, hovering just around the edges of sleaze without diving in headfirst – that is, until the climax, which is easily one of the most ridiculous committed to film in some time. Think of it like a sexed-up, bloody version of Single White Female (1992) and that’s more or less the gist of things. The never-ending entertainment is found in the artistic flourishes scattered throughout, like star Paz de la Huerta’s inability to wear pants at any point in the film, the hilariously overt sexuality in nearly every line of her dialogue, Judd Nelson’s creeper ‘stache, and why the film has a voiceover being done by what is clearly another actress.
The picture opens with some on-screen text letting us know that the health care industry produces the most number of serial killers before launching into a voiceover (again, by whom?) that explains our leading nurse, Abby Russell (Paz de la Huerta), is on a Ms. 45 (1981) style mission to rid the world (or at least her corner of the it) of cheating men. We aren’t told how long she’s been doing this, though based on the efficiency with which she dispatches the first victim it’s probably been a while. Impressive, when you consider she does it in such grandiose fashion; it’s a damn spectacle. Abby develops a special affinity for Danni (Katrina Bowden), a newly-graduated nurse she helped mentor. One night, Danni spots her stepfather, Martin (Martin Donovan), leaving a hotel with another woman while she and Abby are headed for a nightclub. Distraught, the girls decide to cut loose… only Danni doesn’t know that Abby has slipped some date rape drugs into her drinks, leading to some random sexual encounters later on that are photographed by Abby. Danni does have a doting boyfriend in Steve (Corbin Bleu), a paramedic who definitely seems like he’d be upset to see those photos. But Abby’s first priority is taking care of cheaters, and now that she knows Martin is one it’s her goal to make him pay. As usual, she does it in the most publicly displayed way possible. This upsets Danni, though, who still loved Martin despite his cheater status. When Abby gets annoyed and lets it slip that she knew how Martin died, a wedge is shoved between the two girls.
The remainder of the picture plays out as a cat & mouse game between Abby and Danni, with both producing very compelling testimony as to why the other is the crazy one. A smooth detective comes on to the scene, Det. Rogan (Boris Kodjoe), and you just know this black stallion is only around to get directions to Pound Town. Seriously, this guy looks like he just stepped off the pages of a fashion magazine, but he’s a cop. His biggest accomplishment is getting Paz naked for, like, the third or fourth time. Abby’s game continues to escalate until the previously mentioned ridiculous climax, in which Abby just gets all kinds of stabby with the least likely people.
For a film that runs only 84 minutes with credits, there’s a surprising density to the material. This review hasn’t even mentioned the flashbacks to Abby’s former life as Susan Price, a mentally unstable young girl who killed her father after he was caught cheating. There’s also the character of Rachel, a new HR hire at the hospital who almost immediately recognizes Abby as Susan and exists solely to give that plotline some exposition. It feels like the picture is stuffed with characters and a few could have been cut or condensed. But, then, Abby wouldn’t get to have nearly as many bodies to kill. Even though his character is comically lecherous, Judd Nelson is pretty awesome rocking the pedo-stache as the hospital’s head doctor. He’s just another male scumbag for Abby to teach a lesson to, but at least he goes out with a massive crimson spray.
Most of this film deals in convention and standard performances. The onus for success is entirely on Paz de la Huerta’s shoulders. What’s funny is that I found her to be nearly intolerable as Nucky’s (Steve Buscemi) girlfriend, Lucy Danziger, on Boardwalk Empire (2010-present). Yet she’s perfect for something this awful, intentionally or not. There’s this breathless cadence to all of her lines, as though she’s mimicking Marilyn Monroe or something. Her perma-duck face thanks to a massive set of pipe fitters has an attractive, almost androgynous quality. And that Coke bottle body is a serious sight; the woman has all the right curves in all the right places. But a good actress, she is not. She’s just so… weird – her mannerisms and line delivery and facial expressions. All of it. She is also, however, extremely seductive. Considering that’s essentially all her character does for most of the film – seducing people – they cast the right woman.
If Nurse 3D had completely embraced its schlocky nature, it might not have been as “good” as it is. When some bad movies become self-aware, they wind up looking more like a pastiche and less like something trying to be taken seriously that nobody possibly can. This is a film that could have been DTV fodder any studio is capable of pumping out; it’s de la Huerta’s off-kilter performance that cements its status as something midnight movie fans will want to embrace with a large, raucous, inebriated crowd.
Nurse 3D comes to Blu-ray with both 2D & 3D versions on one disc. The 2D version comes equipped with a 2.40:1 1080p image that looks absurdly good. The picture is razor sharp & crystal clear thanks to a digital source that was shot just beautifully. This picture spends a lot of time swathed in darkness, and cinematographer Boris Mojsovski has done some fantastic work with lighting to develop a picture that retains commendable detail even in less-than-optimal conditions. Contrast levels are generally strong, with rich black levels that never appear hazy or washed out. Colors tend to veer slightly toward the warm end of the spectrum; much of the picture is bathed in hues of red, adding to the sultry atmosphere the filmmakers have set. Because 3D films require good lighting to make sure all of the picture frame’s elements are readable, many shot natively wind up with a stellar 2D transfer, too. A similar comparison could be made to My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009), which had a similarly strong visual appearance on Blu-ray. While I wasn’t able to review the 3D version of the film, there are many shots that have clearly been composed with an extra dimension in mind. Some inventive camera work and well-placed objects suggest a strong depth of field to be seen in 3D. And, of course, there are more than a couple of gore gags that were done with CGI and are intended to leap off the screen at viewers. The film’s lossless English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track has a few big moments to cut loose, but otherwise is a fairly mundane offering. Most of the sound design replies on subtle background cues and ambiance (the sounds of hospital workers, the hum of late-night city life), with a few nightclub scenes the only time things sound truly immersive. Even with the bass pulsing and the constant chatter of nightclub patrons all around, dialogue and effects are never lost in the track. The sound effects have a nice weight to them, too. The film’s score by composer Anton Sanko is a playful, devilish collection of cues that sometimes sound like Muzak tunes; the kind of stuff you’d hear in an elevator in a hospital. Things ramp up when we reach the film’s frenzied climax, where the slicing of knives and the crashing of glass are ever-present.
Nurse 3D doesn’t score much in the supplemental department, but Lionsgate has included an audio commentary, a couple of featurettes, and some trailers. Writer/director Doug Aaronokoski’s audio commentary is a great track for aspiring filmmakers. He’s a very enthusiastic director, eager to discuss all the nuts & bolts of his filmmaking process. A good portion of the discussion deals with his difficulties shooting in 3D, and how if he had to do it all over again he’d only make a 3D movie with at least $50mm to budget. Just as with most writer/director commentary tracks, Aaronokoski is able to regale viewers with both the technical side of filmmaking as well as providing numerous on-set anecdotes about the shoot and its locations. “Bad Medicine: The Making of Nurse” is more or less a standard EPK presentation, but we get face time with more than just the leading cast and there’s also some behind-the-scenes footage thrown in. De la Huerta is a… unique personality. And she apparently LOVES to tan because she’s practically orange here. “Video Diaries” features some of the main actors during the pre-production process getting ready for their roles. Corbin Bleu’s video shows he thinks something called “air horn madness” – where he walks the streets of NYC scaring people with a tiny air horn – is legitimately funny.
If you like trashy cinema, Nurse 3D can be a fun watch at home. Better suggestion: watch it with a group of the right friends and it’ll be even better. What could have easily been a forgettable, if not beautifully shot, film winds up potentially entering the lexicon of cult classics thanks to de la Huerta’s tonally bizarre performance.
3 out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5