At the start of writer-director Martín Kraut’s new thriller The Dose/La Dosis, Marcos (Carlos Portaluppi) is a man who likes his routine. He’s a night nurse at the same clinic where he’s worked for twenty years, where he does everything he can to makes sure his patients are taken care of. He then enjoys the same can of peas for dinner each night, and heads home to the same rundown apartment to sleep through the day despite the construction happening next door.
And, oh yeah — when his patients aren’t doing well, if their families are keeping them alive despite the fact that their prognosis isn’t good and they’re in pain for the sake of being alive, Marcos has no problem slipping a little something into their I.V. drip to help speed up their imminent death. A little euthanasia to while away the hours. But only for their benefit! …he tells himself.
Then, one day, a handsome, beguiling new nurse joins the staff. Gabriel (Ignacio Rogers) is charismatic and seductive, quickly hooking up with the female nurses that Marcos works with. Marcos seems interested in the new nurse, who is friendly and nice to him, and did I mention, handsome? When Marcos chides the younger man for sneaking off for a smoke break, or for switching shifts to go party with the lab techs, does he really need the help around the ICU, or is he jealous that Gabriel is spending time with people who aren’t him?
And then one day, Marcos walks into the ICU to find Gabriel injecting a syringe full of air into the neck of an ornery patient who had been annoying the two nurses earlier that night. It seems that Gabriel, too, indulges in a bit of euthanasia here and there… only, unlike Marcos, he’s not doing it for altruistic reasons. He’s doing it for fun.
The Dose/La Dosis becomes a battle of wits and seduction as the two nurses circle each other warily, each trying to figure out whether the other will break first. Gabriel continues to show interest in Marcos, but is it genuine attraction or an attempt to keep Marcos close so he won’t turn them in? When Marcos stares at him, is it in fear or in longing? And is there a difference?
This is a well-made, tightly-constructed thriller that takes place with few actors in even fewer rooms. It’s all sterile blues and greens, very cold, the perfect color palette among which these Angels of Death have their showdown. As opposed to your typical hospital film, defined by harsh, bright lighting, the lights in the ICU here are dimmed at night so the patients can sleep. It gives the whole film an air of foreboding, as what seems like a comforting environment at the beginning becomes a shadow-filled tomb.
Queer villains are tough to get right. Film history is littered with examples of queer disrupters, queer threats to the status quo, queer monsters that emerge from the depths and drag down the (heterosexual) hero. On this front, The Dose/La Dosis is admirably restrained; until everything erupts in the final act, most of the homoeroticism is suggested rather than outright admitted. It’s crucial, then, that Marcos is implied to be the one longing for Gabriel; Gabriel as a queer villain is not just there to threaten the heterosexual world — though he does kill a woman who we see has a large family — but is also a threat to Marcos’s stability.
Ignacio Rogers’ performance as Gabriel goes a long way here. He’s reminiscent of Ben Whishaw in Perfume: The Story of a Murderer; kind of slender and seductively timid. He’s a perfectly blank villain, the ideal handsome face on which to project Marcos’s desire. When he merely wants a friend, Gabriel seems warm and inviting. As Marcos becomes suspicious, though, Gabriel’s smile seems chilling and dangerous. And when Gabriel directly tries to seduce Marcos, we don’t know whether he’s genuinely interested or if he’s so hollow, Tom Ripley-like, that he’ll use his sexuality to any end, no matter who the recipient. It’s extremely tense to watch play out.
Although some of the pacing feels off and it does take quite a while for the movie to kick off and really get going, it’s never boring. In other words, I wish that Kraut would have escalated the tension more effectively rather than taking a hard left into thriller territory. Still, I enjoyed the ride, and at a tight 90 minutes, it’s hard to complain too much.
By Eric Langberg
The Dose/La Dosis will have its North American premiere on-demand at the Fantasia Festival in Canada, starting next week. Tickets are available now at the Fantasia Festival website.