“It’s Kraut’s writing that undoes everything he does so well as a director”
An elderly patient is peacefully asleep in an intensive care unit when her heart rate plummets and stops. On duty nurse Marcos (Carlos Portaluppi) attempts to save his patient, alongside several colleagues, but after the doctors pronounce the patient as dead Marcos continues his efforts and miraculously saves her – much to the annoyance of the doctors. Shortly after, however, Marcos returns to the patient without anyone in sight and euthanises her. Set in a cramped and dark ward, the opening does a grand job of hooking the audience in but unfortunately the rest of the film isn’t nearly as strong or coherent.
Writer and director Martin Kraut’s feature debut is an Argentinian drama thriller centred on Marcos, running the ICU ward and euthanising patients who have no hope of recovering, when his world is turned upside down with the arrival of new nurse Gabriel (Ignacio Rogers). The Dose takes its time setting up the characters and the central conflict, so much time in fact that the narrative only really takes off halfway through the runtime. This does give Kraut the time and space though to establish the cold and unnerving setting. Most of the scenes are set during the night, and with the ICU ward colourless already, it makes the central location dark and drab. The soundscape helps make the location even more miserable: the creaking hallways, humming of machinery and coughs from patients constantly echo throughout each scene. Add to that sequences of Marcos eating peas out of a can in solitude – The Dose isn’t here to warm your heart.
It’s Kraut’s writing that undoes everything he does so well as a director. That slow-burn first half establishes little, other than the fact that Gabriel disrupt Marcos’ routine by swapping around work shifts, wooing his colleagues, and administrating drugs to patients without permission. The affect it has on Marcos is well-realised thanks to a great performance from Portaluppi – who makes the most of a sparse script with subtle expressions – but it takes far too long for the story to move on and doesn’t have much to say.
The pacing does move up several gears after a midpoint twist that can be seen from a mile away, but without laying much groundwork beforehand the latter scenes don’t land as they should. It feels like Kraut wants to make a statement or start a conversation around euthanasia, but there aren’t any scenes or conversations that say anything meaningful about the topic – aside from a brief exchange between characters who talk about playing God in the last fifteen minutes of the film. The Dose’s official synopsis takes delight in talking about the film’s “homoerotic undertones” and exploration of “sexual desire”, but again there is nothing – not a scene, a shot, or a moment – that suggests those themes. Again, it isn’t until the end of the film where those themes are brought to the audience’s attention in an unsubtle manner without any satisfying build up.
There is one thematic element that does land, however. An ongoing conflict between nurses and doctors is intricately explored, where the nurses are treated terribly by patients and colleagues alike compared to the authoritative doctors. The nurses constantly fear what their superiors would think of each decision they make, and each exchange with a doctor is hostile. During an inquiry between a nurse and several doctors, the nurse is hounded by one explosive doctor whilst another dismissively plays on their phone. It’s a theme that works well within the narrative from beginning to end, and it’s a shame that Kraut isn’t able to fully realise the other topics explored.
On a technical level it’s a strong debut from Kraut who utilises sound and visuals to create a foreboding atmosphere, but his writing brings the whole project down. Thematic elements aren’t properly explored until it is far too late, making the twists and turns of the final act frustrating instead of rewarding, and the central premise feels paper thin. The experience will leave a sour taste in audience’s mouths as the opening proves that somewhere within The Dose is a great film.
Dir: Martin Kraut
Wri: Martin Kraut
Prod: Pablo Chernov, Martin Kraut
Cast: Carlos Portaluppi, Ignacio Rogers, Lorena Vega
Header image courtesy of BFI.