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Just when it seemed like 2000s Asian horror could not get any weirder, Sick Nurses threw its hat into the ring and set a high bar for transgressive entertainment. In this Thai hidden gem hailing all the way from ’07, a gaggle of naughty nurses along with a crooked doctor commit a series of heinous crimes. And the one thing stopping them from getting away with their misdeeds is a flamboyant, merciless ghost hellbent on revenge.
Sick Nurses does not hide the fact that its main characters are loathsome and irredeemable. Right from the start, co-directors and co-writers Piraphan Laoyont and Thodsapol Siriwiwat deny any chance of sympathy when the nurses and doctor murder their colleague in cold blood. Inside an empty Bangkok hospital, the headquarters of a local organ harvesting ring, a nurse named Tahwaan (Chol Wachananont) is killed then disposed of after threatening to expose her partners in crime. Why she resorted to such drastic measures is not entirely known, but one thing is for sure — a vengeance story is fast approaching. Like clockwork, the perpetrators begin to fall prey to a sinister force brewing inside the hospital.
Sick Nurses wastes no time dispensing with the fodder. The first victim, Ae (Kanya Rattanapetch), meets her fitting fate shortly before the fifteen-minute mark. This is also after she spelled out the conditions for their resident ghost to return; lore states the dead can come back to a loved one only on the seventh day following their death. In this case, Tahwaan’s object of affection is none other than the organ thieves’ ringleader, Dr. Tar (Wichan Jarujinda). In the same breath as her dead-on exposition, Ae claimed Nook (Chidjan Rujiphun) would be Tahwaan’s greatest target, seeing as she came between her lovesick sister and the doctor.
When dealing with restless and vengeful ghosts in horror, characters are often handed a mystery to solve. So on top of an apparitional attacker is the desperate quest for answers. Why is the spirit still here, and what can be done to put them to rest? Sick Nurses, on the other hand, does not follow the standard formula. There are no apparent clues to decipher since Tahwaan’s cause of death has been known from the get-go. With no deep mysteries to unravel or ghostbusting rituals to perform, the story takes on the form and functions of a supernatural slasher.
Tahwaan, whose body is covered from head to toe in black paint and fabric, stalks her hapless quarries throughout the hospital in the hours before midnight. The phantasmal killer’s individual hunts result in a slew of eye-catching set pieces that atone for the film’s glaring lack of plot. Candy-coated scenery, saturated colors, and surreal violence distinguish these scenes from others, not to mention raise the caliber of a mistakenly routine ghost story. Tahwaan then using each victim’s greatest obsession against them amounts to death sequences worth celebrating.
There is not a single agreeable character to be found here; everyone is unethical and repugnant. Their surly temperaments and depraved behaviors make their eventual demises all the more satisfying to watch. They are less characters now and more like conduits for karmic torture. The antagonistic Jo (Dollaros Dachapratumwan) suffers a drawn-out and ruthless execution when Tahwaan exploits her eating disorder. Without giving away too much details, this exceptionally mean scene features a self-induced mandibulectomy and a projectile fetus in a jar. Narcissistic twins Am and On (Ampaiwan and Ampairat Techapoowapa) discover a shared activity that leaves them in pieces, fitness freak Yim (Ase Wang) gets tied up in her own hairy punishment, and finally, Ae from earlier loses her head to materialism. Sick Nurses completely subscribes to the cruel and unapologetic ethos so emblematic of aughts horror.
The term “queer horror” means different things to different people, although regardless of how anyone defines it, the many films collected under this umbrella almost always have to do with otherness. As aggressive as Sick Nurses is with just about everything else, it approaches its queer themes with reservation before blasting the closet door wide open. Both the campy quality and the neon-drenched aesthetic are suggestive, but the most conclusive evidence lies in Dr. Tar. Intermittent flashbacks show Dr. Tar was once in a secret relationship with another man.
The queerness does not stop with doctors on the down-low or a flashy ghost who bleeds glitter. The film takes othering to a whole different level by then dropping a well hidden if not thorny plot twist in the last act. This startling development is more befitting of a mid-tier soap opera from times past. How this leftfield turn of events is handled comes across as more gotcha than progressive, and it will undoubtedly be food for thought for those seeing Sick Nurses in a more enlightened social climate.
Few ghost stories are as twisted and unrestrained as this one, and nearly every creative gamble here pays off. The distinct combination of camp, panache, and stomach-churning intensity is irresistible to fans of audacious horror. This film goes unnoticed despite its visually arresting presentation and go-for-broke story, but with wider availability, Sick Nurses could finally achieve the cult status it so deserves.
Horrors Elsewhere is a recurring column that spotlights a variety of movies from all around the globe, particularly those not from the United States. Fears may not be universal, but one thing is for sure — a scream is understood, always and everywhere.