Nurse 3D’s opening stat dump, that the health care profession has produced the greatest number of known serial killers, is dangled before the audience’s eyes like a poisoned carrot. And the film’s first scene, of Abby Russell (Paz de la Huerta), a nurse who “looks like a slut” by her own design, luring the ostensibly dangerous predators who walk among us, promises a passably subversive tale of vengeful comeuppance in the guise of a campy thriller. But while Abby’s performance identity at first intimates a willful reconciling of self-image, her artifice, already made unconvincing by the ever-nude de la Huerta’s expectedly somnambulistic delivery of beyond-purple lines such as “They are like diseased cells cultured in alcoholic petri dishes,” is quickly revealed to be little more than a product of the same male fantasies she rebels against.
The story takes place largely within a present-day New York City hospital that’s lit like the Highline Ballroom, or a latter-day Argento giallo, and where the nurses’ uniforms appear to be supplied by Victoria’s Secret or Ricky’s. And in keeping with the distinctly Skinemax vibe of the film’s aesthetic, Abby’s perpetually in-heat narration suggests it was ghost-written by E.L. James: On new-nurse-on-the-block Danni (Katrina Bowden) seeing her first patient being pushed out of the back of an ambulance, Abby moans, “She lost her virginity, and the blood flowed.” Sexual harassment and indiscretion happen freely in the open, and only go punished by Abby past the opening scene—against hospital personnel, against Danni’s stepfather (played by a weary-looking Martin Donovan)—if her actions promise to realize her obligatory Sapphic desires.
No sense of moral complication arises from the elaborate and conspicuously far-from-evidence-free bloodbaths that Abby sets into motion against her pussy-blockers. Rather than capture truly pained souls tangled in exuberant horror tropes, the filmmakers settle for retrograde anguish and warmed-over artistry. This isn’t idea-rich trash like Passion, a fizzy symphony of terror that commented on personality as mediated by image recording. Capturing evidence of Danni’s accidentally cheating ways doesn’t complicate Abby, only reveals her to be cut from the same crazy quilt as your garden-variety movie psychopath. Of course, that Nurse 3D suggests a worst-case-scenario gene splice of Orphan and Side Effects, which is to say it’s exactly the film that Brian de Palma’s naysayers think they see whenever they patronize one of the auteur’s works, it at least succeeds in proving the adage that one man’s trash is another’s treasure.