Exploitation cinema is a tricky area. For some it is far too broad an umbrella term that shelters such diverse sub-genres as slasher movies, Giallo flicks, sexploitation work, and a myriad of other niche material; for others it is a negative term, an insult almost, used to refer to that considered to be not suitably highbrow or of dubious moral character. I fall into the former category. The term ‘exploitation’ itself is pejorative implying that someone, somewhere is being used against their will or taken advantage of in some way. Furthermore, it is far too wide a definition – I love slasher movies and would consider myself an expert on the subject; I know very little about Giallo and, accordingly, would not pretend to write with authority about one. For the uninitiated however both would be exploitation cinema. There are certain aspects that, regardless of attitude, one would expect to find in an exploitation flick though: gratuitous, often frequent nudity, usually female; a plot that, whilst thin, usually focusses on revenge; a low-budget, grindhouse feel; and a cavalier, almost comical, approach to graphic violence. ‘Nurse’ is, therefore, exploitation cinema.
The story follows the dual life of Abigail Russell, the eponymous nurse. By day she is a dedicated and well respected nurse at All Saints Memorial Hospital but by night she lures and murders men who cheat on their wives and families. When she is given rookie nurse Danni to mentor through her first year she falls in love but, when her friendship is shunned after a drunken night, she grows vengeful and violent. As Abby becomes more unhinged and the two sides to her life increasingly bleed together, Danni must battle an enemy who is always one step ahead in order to save her life and the lives of those closest to her.
Embracing its B-movie roots the script for ‘Nurse’, written by director Douglas Aarniokoski and David Loughery, is great fun. Narratively the film is a very straightforward, by-the-numbers, revenge thriller; there are a number of clearly telegraphed twists, but the central conceit of the jilted lover, whilst far from original, is well trodden and allows more room for the dialogue to breathe. Large sections of the film have a narrative voiceover by Abby which serves to both flesh out the motivations of the character and, at points, her origins. These sections in particular add real humour to the piece and, when added to a number of sparky exchanges between the two leads, create a sense of fun to the proceedings. That’s not to say ‘Nurse’ is a comedy, it is far from it, but when Abby tells a friend that her “schedule has been murder” it’s hard not to roll your eyes and crack a smile. It is true that some characters exist purely to die in grisly fashion and there are some illogical leaps in characterisation; I wonder how much of Aarniokoski’s vision we’re actually getting here however. ‘Nurse’ is very short, around eighty minutes, and I would be interested to know how much ended up on the cutting room floor or was removed after production had wrapped.
The cast are solid, with some great performances, even if some do work with one-dimensional roles. The supporting cast includes Corbin Bleu, of ‘High School Musical’ fame, doing a solid job as Danni’s boyfriend Steve, Judd Nelson who brings an authentic air of creepiness to Dr Morris, all smiles and butt-patting sleaze, and the ever-reliable Martin Donovan as Danni’s dodgy stepfather Larry. Standout of the supporting cast is Melanie Scrofano who shines in a brief but entertaining role as the irritating, endlessly cheerful Human Resources Manager Rachel Adams. Less impressive are Adam Herschman as weird neighbour Jared and Niecy Nash as Danni’s friend Regina, the sassy African-American friend role that is tediously recurrent in modern cinema. I do not wish to criticise either Herschman or Nash however; their performances are stunted by the thin characters they are given to work with. Danni, the first of our leads, is played by Katrina Bowden, who you will have no doubt seen in the excellent ‘Tucker and Dale vs. Evil’, and she is a likeable, peppy presence. It is nice to see her getting bigger roles; she is always engaging and likeable on screen and in ‘Nurse’ shows us that she can do angry badass as well as anyone in the genre at the moment. However, this movie belongs to Paz de la Huerta as Abby Russell. Her performance swings from the robotic, false persona she shows at work, to the sultry, seductress she becomes to lure unfaithful men, to the wide-eyed, psycho she ultimately becomes, and she is thoroughly excellent throughout.
The nudity in ‘Nurse’ – mainly from de la Huerta although Bowden spends large sections in her underwear – is extensive but I do not think that it is gratuitous; there is, mostly, a narrative point to it. This is a film about Abigail Russell and the artifice of her existence. Her nudity is as much a costume as the nurse outfit she wears to work and often what she isn’t wearing is as important as what she is. Her hair appears in many different styles but always looks false, like a complicated wig; she has the same uniform as other nurses, yet manages to make it look completely different; her eveningwear is always sheer, skin-tight, and see-through; she appears bottomless but, rather than sexualised, she appears almost mannequin-esque; all of these things constantly bring us back to the idea of the different roles that the character plays. Everyone knows she differs from them but they choose to ignore it, whether for sex, through wilful ignorance, or simple disbelief. Yes, ‘Nurse’ has lots of nudity but its purpose is narrative; the underwear our two leads wear reinforces their archetype – Abby’s tiny lace Victoria’s Secret sexiness show us the sexual and confident being she is, Danni’s large, everyday pants suggest the opposite. There are other ways of making those points, to be sure, but when the film’s sole intention is to be trashy fun, what better way could they have chosen?
The special effects used in ‘Nurse’ are a mixture of CGI and real physical effects and make up. The physical effects are good especially during the final showdown in an operating theatre – further supported by some strong stunt work – and everything is suitably bloody and gruesome. The CGI is limited to some penetrating wounds and blood splatter; computer graphics never ring true and, given they used such a large amount of blood anyway, it would have been more convincing to go the full physical effects route. The make-up work is excellent with an array of operating wounds, murders, and even a realistic car crash on display all of which are solidly realised. The original working title of the film was ‘Nurse 3D’ but the final release is simply ‘Nurse’ – having watched the 3D version, it’s easy to see why. There is little 3D used and it is largely perfunctory; I enjoyed the movie equally in two dimensions. The score also adds layers to the production too; a good range of catchy, if odd, songs and some cheerful, retro tunes really chimes with the kitsch vibe.
Fun is the key word for ‘Nurse’ and I had a great time with it. There are plot holes and some characters are undeveloped but it rattles along at a fair pace, it has a fun script, some excellent effects, and some strong blood and guts. On that alone I would have no hesitation in recommending it. Add in a great supporting cast and solid work by Katrina Bowden then it becomes highly recommended. Throw in a gloriously strange, beautifully pitched, star turn from Paz de la Huerta and it flirts with greatness. Not the best film I’ve seen this year but definitely the most joyously fun one. Highly recommended.
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