‘La Dosis’ Review: Slow-Burn Thriller Imagines War Between Angels of Death in an ICU

The line between mercy killing and plain old murder is uncomfortably drawn in Argentine “La Dosis.” Writer-director Martin Kraut’s debut feature sets up an intriguing cat-and-mouse conflict between one male hospital nurse whose early-terminus interventions are of the compassionate kind, while a new staffer’s seem motivated by pure malice.

Not quite as suspenseful or twisty as that premise might lead one to expect, this ends up falling somewhere between thriller and character-study terrain. Nonetheless, it occupies that not-entirely-satisfying middle ground capably enough to keep viewers interested, and to suggest its maker has the chops for less-modestly-scaled future projects. Following a run on the genre festival circuit, Goldwyn is releasing directly to U.S. VOD and digital platforms on June 11.

Outwardly, Marcos (Carlos Portaluppi) is something of a sad sack: A portly middle-aged loner without apparent friends or family, working a singularly grim night-shift job. He can’t even escape via sleep, since his rather dilapidated apartment is assaulted all day long by nearby-construction noise. But in that unenviable post at a private clinic’s Intensive Care Unit, he has tranquility and purpose, being able to calm agitated patients who know their time is nearly up. When the prognosis is hopeless and their suffering too great, he sometimes gives them a discreet wee-hours nudge off the mortal plane. As the beneficiaries were expected to die anyway, these morally-defensible (if still illegal) acts go undetected.

But the unit soon comes under closer scrutiny after the arrival of a new nurse who joins Marcos and his longtime colleague Noelia (Lorena Vega) on their shifts. At least in this rather cheerless environ, Gabriel (Ignacio Rogers) seems the spirit of youth, handsome and extroverted. He ingratiates himself with everyone so well that only charm-resistant Marcos suspects something unsettling about the newcomer. Indeed, deaths in the ICU begin to surge, including among patients whose health had been improving. But Gabriel has sussed the older man’s secret, too, so Marcos risks exposing his own euthanasias in order to stop this smiling psychopath from killing (as he puts it) “for pleasure.”

Using relatively few locations that mark the borders of its protagonist’s withdrawn life, “La Dosis” is nonetheless visually confident and sometimes alluring, reflecting Kraut’s background in still photography. Scenes at the clinic are bathed in blue tints both nocturnal and institutional, a device that risks aesthetic mannerism. I’s a successful gambit, though, helping us see why for Marcos this typically quiet ward is a safe zone, a warm-bath-like place where he’s comforted by comforting others.

The homoerotic aspect in his uneasy relationship with Gabriel may seem underdeveloped to some viewers, as are several other plot elements. But the directorial tone underlines that whether Marcos is attracted to this pushy new-best-friend or not (it’s unclear), he’s as upset by having his privacy invaded as by the evil deeds Gabriel may well have been committing before his arrival here.

There are elements of low-key black comedy in our hapless hero’s dealing with clinic superiors, who are so clueless that their suspicions fall on entirely the wrong person. As a thriller, however, “La Dosis” is slow-burning to a fault, never quite arriving at the boil anticipated. Even the climactic confrontation is sotto voce, literally and otherwise. It would not have damaged the film’s integrity to eke a bit more tension from slightly-more-heightened plot turns, which Kraut resists as both writer and director.

Still, it’s all more involving than it is frustrating. That’s thanks in large part to the nuanced performances of the leads, whose work ensures that at least the first half of the term “psychological thriller” feels well-realized here. Cinematographer Gustavo Biazzi’s formal compositions and cool pastels provide the most prominent factor in an accomplished tech/design assembly.

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