It’s an exceptionally busy weekend for new movies and TV shows on streaming services. Netflix, Prime Video and the other big hitters have seen fit to drop plenty of spooky-themed productions just in time for Halloween – and frankly, you’d need to own a time machine to get through all of them in just a few days.
Allow us, then, to recommend our pick of the bunch: The Good Nurse, which has already taken its place atop our list of the best Netflix movies available to stream in the US and UK.
Based on events documented in the book of the same name by Charles Graeber, this new Netflix movie – from director Tobias Lindholm – centers on the murderous exploits of real-life serial killer Charles Cullen (Eddie Redmayne), who abused his position as a US hospital nurse to habitually posion dozens of hospital patients over a period of 16 years beginning in 1988.
Jessica Chastain co-leads The Good Nurse as Cullen’s colleague, Amy Loughren, whose innocent impression of “Charlie” is shattered when she learns of his sadistic crimes.
So far, so distressing – and make no mistake, The Good Nurse is about as far removed from an uplifting Sunday morning watch as it gets (but then again, so was Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, and look how successful that proved to be for Netflix). Unlike with Dahmer, though, The Good Nurse sees Netflix roll its penchant for true crime storytelling into a taut two-hour thriller that might, on another day, have been turned into an eight-part drama series.
And the film benefits immensely from its concise format. No time is wasted on examining Cullen’s psyche or delving too deeply into the lives of his myriad victims. We’re given very little opportunity to consider why he behaves the way he does, or sympathize with the families of those he harms so absolutely.
Instead, The Good Nurse is much more focused on Amy, its eponymous heroine. Yes, this is a movie that dramatizes the crimes of a heinous serial killer – but The Good Nurse touches on far more troubling subjects than one man’s evil. Namely, Krysty Wilson-Cairns’ screenplay doubles down on its criticism of America’s healthcare system and the gross negligence that allowed Cullen to repeat his crimes at 10 different hospitals.
Amy is overworked and dangerously ill, but unwilling to take the leave of absence she needs for fear of financial ruin. As per the conditions of her contract, she must work at the hospital for a minimum of 12 months before qualifying for the company’s health insurance program. When we meet Amy in The Good Nurse, a rare cardiac disorder is affecting her life on a daily basis – but there’s still four months to go before she can take a break.
This tension arises long before Cullen’s crimes are introduced, and yet we fear for Amy’s safety from the get-go. For the first half of the film, the bureaucratic framework in which Amy exists is the antagonist.
But Wilson-Cairns’ finger-pointing – or strictly speaking, author Charles Graeber’s – doesn’t subside even when Cullen’s behaviour does begin to rear its ugly head.
It quickly becomes clear that the various hospital bosses who employed Cullen during his 16-year career as a nurse knew about what he was doing to patients. Yes, you read that right: hospital executives knew Cullen was killing patients. Rather than expose his actions to the authorities, though, they frequently opted to fire him for minor administrative discrepancies and move him onto the next hospital in a bid to avoid legal action.
As such, The Good Nurse (rightly) puts the criminal negligence and obstruction of justice demonstrated by Cullen’s employers on a level with the murderous crimes themselves. There are no jump scares or gruesome deaths here – the most uncomfortable moments come when we realize the shocking degree to which these hospitals facilitated Cullen’s behavior.
On a performance level, Chastain is typically convincing, and Redmayne combines the physicality of his Stephen Hawking with the quiet menace of his Eddie Kreezer (the creepy drifter character he played in 2011’s Hick). Neither portrayal is particularly earth-shattering, but both actors more than hold their own in the face of the film’s uncomfortable material.
The biggest star of The Good Nurse is its quietly poignant social commentary. This is the sort of movie we’ve become accustomed to seeing on Apple TV Plus, not the company behind bombastic Hollywood productions like Don’t Look Up and The Gray Man.
On the broad spectrum of original Netflix movies, then, Lindholm’s latest is an explicitly low-key affair – but its shocking story of gross criminal negligence is far more impactful than the big-budget drama of the streamer’s starrier blockbusters.