Two killer nurses stalk the patients of an ICU ward in Argentine thriller The Dose – but are they really dispensing mercy?
Marcos (Carlos Portaluppi) is a dedicated ICU nurse of twenty years working in a rundown regional hospital. His life looks utterly depressing, drudging between his dilapidated apartment and his long shifts at the hospital it is clear that he is a loner and resigned to staying that way. But he is respected at work, and whilst the patients may treat him poorly he is very kind to them. Too kind in fact, for we quickly learn that Marcos is comfortable taking life and death into his own hands. Creeping in at night to administer lethal overdoses to patients who have no hope of recovery – Carlos is the angel of mercy.
Carlos’ simple routine is disrupted when a new nurse, Gabriel (Ignacio Rogers) arrives on the ward. Gabriel is the polar opposite of Carlos; young, slim and handsome and quick to ingratiate himself amongst the other staff. This is Gabriel’s first nursing job and he is keen to learn, volunteering for extra shifts and doing procedures unsupervised – which ruffles Carlos feathers. As more and more patients start to die on the ward, Carlos comes to realise that Gabriel is killing them. But where Carlos may kill from a sense of empathy and kindness, Gabriel seems to enjoy it, soon complicating matters by killing patients that weren’t even terminal.
Thus begins the game of psychological cat and mouse that will dominate much of The Dose. Both men know what the other is doing but Gabriel is a master of deception, the archetypal smiling assassin who is just too damn charming for anyone to suspect he is doing wrong. Writer and director Martin Kraut builds a Hitchcockian sense of unease as Gabriel constantly manages to sidle his way out of potential trouble and Carlos becomes increasingly unhinged, worrying first that he is imagining it all and then that no one will believe him.
Portaluppi is a strong protagonist, portraying perfectly the growing muted mania of a man being manipulated to the edge but trying to keep it all together. The fact that there’s an undeniable bond between the two men driven by a slowly hinted at homoerotic tension serves to drive home the fact that they are two sides of the same coin – two killers driven by different desires. Rogers is given less to do, The Dose never quite allowing him become all that terrifying even when threatened, but he is a decent if underutilised villain nonetheless.
The film reaches a slightly unsatisfying third act – whilst the final confrontation between the two men did elicit a small gasp from the audience it is quickly over and appears inconsequential for the two characters as it comes to a close. There are no great surprises in the writing. I did find myself wishing that all that tension had led to something a little more bombastic but maybe the true horror of the story lies in the complete disinterest of the hospital administration to the fact that a serial killer has been within their midst. Medical negligence is the more realistic nightmare I suppose.
Just in case you hadn’t spent enough time worrying about ending up in an ICU lately, The Dose is a fine medical drama that plays on fears firmly grounded in reality. Whilst the muted green grey cinematography carries over into muted greyish thrills that never quite seem to boil over, it is elevated by a very strong central performance from Carlos Portaluppi.
The Dose is playing as part of BFI Flare, the London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival, between 17th – 28th March. You can buy tickets to stream it right here