The 00s were a golden era for Asian horror cinema. It felt as if every week there was at least one up and coming horror film ready to dethrone the previous ones. Piraphan Laoyont and Thatsaporn Siriwat's Sick Nurses [Suay Laak Sai] was one of them. A film that wouldn't stand a chance nowadays, but managed to land an international distribution deal, firmly riding the horror wave of that time. I wasn't quite sure whether I would still like the film though, but I vaguely remembered it to be a little different from the norm. And sure enough, Sick Nurses managed to ace its second viewing.
The problem with a film like Sick Nurses is that the criteria for success have shifted a lot since that original viewing. Back then, it was all about one-upping your peers, being different, bringing something new to the table. Nowadays, that entire wave of Asian horror films has solidified into a fixed niche with well-established genre elements, where year of release and originality play less of a role compared to core cinematic qualities. Revisiting these films is quite fun, but it's also a bit scary as chances are that those old favorites just aren't going to hold up anymore. On the other hand, quality always prevails, as is the case with Sick Nurses.
Even though the film looks like so many other Asian horror films of that era, don't be fooled by its appearance. Sick Nurses isn't really out to scare you, instead it's a smirky revenge thriller dressed up in horror attire. Laoyont and Siriwat don't really push for tension or scares, instead they take a more stylized approach, going for atmosphere and fun kills instead. The mix of dark comedy and revenge narrative dressed up as a horror film could be a little confusing at first, but the second half of the film leaves very little to the imagination.
The film is set in a small hospital, where a young doctor is enjoying the company of a crew of young, frivolous nurses. The doctor is also running a little side business where he sells off corpses to shady characters. A new opportunity arises, but the delivery date of the corps is delayed, pushing the deadline beyond the crucial 7 days since death (a critical ghost-related period of time in local folklore). Soon after, the nurses start experiencing weird phenomena, but things aren't quite what they seem.
If there's one thing that characterizes Thai cinema of the 00s, it's the extremely vibrant and joyful use of color. Sick Nurses fits that description pretty well, not something you'd immediately expect from a horror film. The camera work is slick and on point, but what stands out here is the use of lighting and color. Strong greens and purples give the film a very unique and recognizable look, something that sets it well apart from its peers. Styling and costumes manage to stand out too, the ghost in particular looks surprisingly fashionable.
The music is way less conspicuous though. Plenty of dark, brooding hums and slow, moody tunes make up the larger part of the soundtrack. It's a very expected and typical soundtrack for a horror film, but it does what it needs to do and apart from setting a good base atmosphere, it hardly interferes with the rest of the film. You probably won't remember that much of it once the film is over, but I wouldn't be surprised if that was deliberate.
The casting is probably a bit more divisive. It's pretty obvious that most of the nurses weren't chosen for their acting skills (though there are one or two welcome exceptions), on the other hand they are little more than dead weight waiting to be slaughtered, so it's hard to tell whether they are annoying by design or simply by lack of skill. Whatever the case though, the overall outcome is positive as it makes the kills all the more satisfying. Don't expect anything too great from the cast, but for all intents and purposes their performances work.
The first half hour can be a little tougher to get through. The nurses are downright irritating and everything still points towards generic genre fare. But once the ghost makes its appearance it quickly becomes clear that Sick Nurses is a stylish exercise in genre bending. There are several pleasant twists and reveals that keep things interesting, next to some juicy kills that are sure to draw some smiles from horror fans. High art it is not, but neither is it a simple cut and paste job from other genre films.
Sick Nurses is a film that will appeal to genre fans who appreciate a film that knowingly and expertly breaks some of the established rules in order to create something a little different. Exuberant colors, a rather stylish ghost and bucket loads of devious fun make this worth your while, unless you desperately demand thrills and scares. Laoyont and Siriwat delivered a film that outlived the Asian suspense hype and stands well on its own. Sadly it didn't do much for their careers, but at least we'll always have Sick Nurses to cherish.