Festivals

{BFI Flare} La Dosis – Review

The opening of Argentinian thriller La Dosis (The Dose) presents nurse Marcos as a stubborn hero harboring an obscure secret.

The character played by Carlos Portaluppi is an experienced, hard-working night nurse in the ICU of a private clinic. In the intro, he manages to prolong the life of an elderly patient only to have his coworkers scoff at him. That lady is going to live one more week before inevitably succumbing to old age, they say. Or less, as it turns out. Marcos comes back later that night as a much more sinister angel of mercy, administering a fatal injection.

Written and directed by Martín Kraut, this movie is a slow-paced reflection on the ethics of euthanasia as well as a closeup look at male loneliness, toxic masculinity, and internalized homophobia.

Canned peas for dinner, a streak of self-loathing looks in the mirror, the crumbling walls of his squalid apartment. Screened at BFI Flare, La Dosis paints Marcos’ dismal existence in details, reflections, and icy undertones courtesy of the sobering cinematography by Gustavo Biazzi. 

Marcos speeds up the demise of patients who have no chance of recovering, he tells himself. The stillness of the night, interrupted by neon lights humming and monitors beeping, is where the protagonist operates undisturbed. The character is one with the darkest hours, with the clinic’s bleak color palette bleeding over his personal life.

La Dosis Explores The Angel Of Mercy vs. Serial Killer Trope

La Dosis seems to defy the audience’s expectations of the killer nurse trope. Marcos isn’t impossibly peppy and cheerful like Fargo’s Oraetta Mayflower. Shy and solitary, Portaluppi plays the lead without giving in to fakery to defuse doubt. Marcos doesn’t compromise. He wears his being an outcast on his scrubs’ sleeve, drawing the audience in despite his questionable behavior.

When ever-smiling, overconfident new nurse Gabriel (Ignacio Rogers) comes around and starts being interested in Marcos, suspicions arise. With his annoying and extremely public politeness, the antagonist fits into the mold of serial killers leading a double life. He, too, murders patients, but he does so in order to quench a much darker thirst than Marcos.

“We’re all terminal,” Gabriel tells the older nurse, showing no remorse. Upon learning this, Marcos descends his very own inferno, questioning his younger colleague’s motives and past, as well as his own. The protagonist brings the viewers with him along beige hospital corridors and blue and green rooms unveiled via increasingly frantic camerawork.

Gabriel attempts to strike a tense friendship with a very reluctant Marcos, not exactly eager to bond over playing god, as his colleague puts it. The newcomer even tests the depths of Marcos’ struggle with his sexual orientation by openly flirting with him. The result is confusing, sensual, and intoxicating. 

Despite Marcos’ resistance, there’s an unstable, electric connection there. But there’s also a fundamental difference, and the film’s prologue exists to clearly establish this. It’s mercy versus pleasure at play in La Dosis, and much more.

Carlos Portaluppi Owns The Frame

Kraut, however, never goes all the way. The filmmaker stretches its premise and a great character study in a thriller that only hints at bigger issues. It’s not just euthanasia, but also medical malpractice, overflowed hospitals, workplace burnout, and queerphobia. La Dosis fails to address them openly or even attempt to resolve them in a rather unsatisfying final confrontation scene.

Forget the dueling core with his nemesis, it’s Marcos who carries the movie on his shoulders. The protagonist could just guzzle yet another can of peas in the break room and the audience would still be watching, raptured. Portaluppi owns the frame with his presence and demeanor, suggesting that perhaps delving into his character’s own trauma would have been far more interesting than his one-upping game with Gabriel. 

La Dosis is at its scariest when Marcos progressively loses touch with reality, falling victim to paranoia and hallucinations, than when it deals with death. Rather than a source of horror, the titular lethal dose is but a device to question the character’s morality and judgement, and our own.

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