SICK NURSES (2007)
Geisha of Gore Movie Review by Colleen Wanglund
As with most horror from Southeast Asia, Thai horror has lots of ghosts. Again, it’s a cultural thing. Many of the movies are based on folk tales and spiritual beliefs that go back generations. In Thai tradition a ghost can be both a protector and an antagonist, depending on the circumstances concerning the dead. For example, a dead wife’s ghost refusing to leave her husband out of love is quite common, as is the ghost who is seeking revenge for a misdeed. There have been male ghosts in Thai stories and movies, but it is predominantly the female ghost that is used to represent maliciousness or misdeeds that go against social norms. The ghost becomes a symbol of punishment. Women are, in large part, still second-class citizens in many of these Asian societies, which is one of the reasons the vengeful ghost is a female.
Written and directed by Piraphan Laoyont and Thodsapol Siriwiwat, SICK NURSES (2007) actually surprised me quite a bit. The movie tells the story of a young doctor and seven nurses working in a hospital in a run-down neighborhood of Bangkok. These eight medical professionals are secretly selling bodies on the black market for their organs.One of the nurses, Tahwaan, discovers that Dr. Tah, her boyfriend, is having an affair with another nurse, Nook. What is even more hurtful is that Nook is Tahwaan’s sister. Enraged by the betrayal, Tahwaan threatens to expose the scam to the police. Before she has a chance to make good on that threat Tahwaan is killed and Tah arranges for her body to be sold to his black market connections. However, a problem arises and Tahwaan’s body must be kept on ice for a bit longer than any of them anticipated.
At one point in the movie we see the nurses in their locker room and one nurse says to Nook how it had been seven days and Tahwaan’s spirit would come for her. This comes from an old Thai belief that if a body is not cremated within seven days of death the spirit of the dead would come back. As the camera moves to a wall clock, we see that it is almost midnight. We don’t need to wait long for Tahwaan’s ghost to appear and seek her revenge against those who killed her. One by one the women are attacked by the ghost and are killed in some gruesome ways. While this is going on, Tah is going to meet his connection to finally be rid of Tahwaan’s body.
Unlike the ghosts typically seen in Asian horror, Tahwaan’s ghost is not covered in long black hair and dressed in white. She appears in all black, including her body, and she poses and moves in a very suggestive manner. Tahwaan uses the individual girls’ vices against them. One of the nurses is completely covered and hanging by hair—she’s quite vain. Another nurse is seen with a purse sewn over her head—she is materialistic. It is also these vanities that Dr. Tah uses to get what he wants from the nurses….including their silence. They cooperate completely with Dr. Tah’s scheme and with Tahwaan’s punishment for threatening to tell all about their little operation.
SICK NURSES is bloodier than your standard Asian ghost story, and that’s not the only originality on display here by the filmmakers. The ghost does not outright kill any of the girls. Instead she possesses them and makes them kill themselves or kill each other. One really cool death scene involves one girl pulling out the thread that is holding the other girl’s neck and head together with the purse over her head. The head rolls away leaving the remaining girl screaming her ass off. It’s funny, but still a bit disturbing. There is another great sequence involving a set of twins, a basin, and a surgical saw that’s both weird and brutal.
What is also intriguing to me is that SICK NURSES pushes the envelope with the Board of Censorship, the governing body of all things moral or immoral in the Thai movie industry. There are typically some very strict rules about movie content in Thailand. Most graphic violence and sex is not allowed to be shown. The Board has also, at times, questioned the portrayal of a profession (in this case the medical profession) and did demand and get a change to one scene in this film. The nurses are all dressed in white, but not necessarily what you would consider a nurse’s standard uniform. Some of the “uniforms” are sexually suggestive, as is the girls’ behavior. It is hinted at that Dr. Tah has probably slept with, or at least flirted with, all of the girls. In this instance, though, I like the contrast between sex and purity, suggested by the white clothing the girls are in for most of the movie. The film uses the color white to sarcastically remind the viewer that women are supposed to be pure and innocent but these women clearly are not—both sexually and in their criminal activities.
Another surprising aspect of SICK NURSES is that one of the characters is a transvestite and another is homosexual. These topics are usually taboo in Thai movies and are rarely, if ever, discussed in Thai culture. It added a pretty decent subtext to the story, but it also allowed for a plot hole involving a main character. This plot hole did not necessarily hurt my viewing experience. I understood what was going on.
That plot hole is not the only thing wrong with this movie. The nurses spend their time running around a near-empty hospital building. If it’s active enough to provide dead bodies to the black market and be lucrative for eight people, then where are all the living patients? And for that matter, where is the rest of the hospital staff? There are also quite a few scenes that are flashback sequences, but the subtitling doesn’t fill us in on that. I caught on quickly but the subtitling should have clued the viewer in to these linear differences. There are other out-of-sequence scenes of what appears to be a banquet where Dr. Tah is awarded as doctor of the year. They appear to be nothing more than comic relief and filler. One of the scenes shows the hospital staff singing a song about compassion, as they are being covered in blood. I don’t know what it was supposed to be. These scenes are interesting but out of context, for the most part, except to show the hospital’s administration as being incompetent, allowing Dr. Tah and his nurses to get away with…well, murder.
Overall, SICK NURSES is an above-average ghost story with some interesting plot devices. These chicks are pretty sick. You can find it easily on Netflix streaming and it’s only 82 minutes long. That makes it entertaining AND quick.
© Copyright 2011 by Colleen Wanglund