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 release plenty of spooky productions just in time for Halloween — and honestly, you’d need a time machine to get through them all in just a matter of days.
So allow us to recommend you our pick: The Good Nurse, which has already taken its place on our list of the best Netflix movies to stream in the US and UK.
Based on events documented in Charles Graeber’s book of the same name, this new Netflix film from director Tobias Lindholm revolves around the murderous exploits of real-life serial killer Charles Cullen (Eddie Redmayne), who abused his position as an American hospital nurse posing for dozens of hospital patients over a 16-year period beginning in 1988.
Jessica Chastain, as co-leader of The Good Nurse, leads Cullen’s colleague Amy Loughren, whose innocent air of “Charlie” is shattered when she learns of his sadistic crimes.
So far, so unsettling — and make no mistake, The Good Nurse is about as far from an uplifting Sunday morning clock as it gets (but then again, so was Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, and look how successful that was for Netflix). Unlike Dahmer, however, Netflix sees its penchant for true crime storytelling turning into a tight two-hour thriller that could have been turned into an eight-part drama series on another day.
And the film benefits immensely from its concise format. No time is wasted examining Cullen’s psyche or delving too deeply into the lives of his countless victims. We have very little opportunity to reflect on why he is behaving the way he is, or to sympathize with the families of those whom he so absolutely harms.
Instead, The Good Nurse focuses much more on Amy, its eponymous heroine. Yes, this is a film that dramatizes the crimes of a heinous serial killer – but The Good Nurse touches on far more disturbing subjects than one man’s evil. Namely, Krysty Wilson-Cairns’ screenplay doubles down on his criticism of America’s healthcare system and gross negligence that allowed Cullen to repeat his crimes in 10 different hospitals.
Amy is overworked and seriously ill, but fearing financial ruin is unwilling to take the vacation she needs. Under the terms of her contract, she must work at the hospital for at least 12 months before she qualifies for the company’s health insurance program. When we meet Amy in The Good Nurse, her life is being impacted on a daily basis by a rare heart condition – but there are still four months before she can take a break.
This tension builds long before Cullen’s crimes are introduced, yet from the start we fear for Amy’s safety. In the first half of the film, the bureaucratic framework in which Amy exists is the antagonist.
But Wilson-Cairns’ blame—or author Charles Graeber’s, for that matter—doesn’t let up even as Cullen’s behavior begins to rear its ugly head.
It quickly becomes apparent that the various hospital managers who employed Cullen throughout his 16-year career as a nurse knew what he was doing with patients. Yes, you read that right: hospital administrators knew Cullen killed patients. However, rather than revealing his actions to the authorities, they often chose to fire him over minor administrative discrepancies and transfer him to the nearest hospital 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 par with the murderous crimes themselves. There are no jump scares or gruesome deaths here — the awkward moments come when we realize the shocking degree to which these hospitals have facilitated Cullen’s behavior.
At the performance level, Chastain is typically compelling, 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 performance is particularly earth-shattering, but both actors more than hold their own given the film’s uncomfortable footage.
The biggest star of The Good Nurse is its quietly poignant social commentary. This is the kind of movie we’ve grown accustomed to seeing on Apple TV Plus, not the company behind bombastic Hollywood productions like Don’t Look Up and The Gray Man.
So in the broad spectrum of Netflix original films, Lindholm’s latest film is a decidedly low-key affair – but its shocking tale of gross criminal negligence is far more impactful than the big-budget drama of the streamer’s star blockbusters.