Capturing the Killer Nurse review: A morally depraved system is the biggest villain in this horror tale

Published on Nov 12, 2022 02:08 PM IST

Capturing the Killer Nurse review: Netflix's new documentary tells the chilling story of a murderous nurse.

Capturing the Killer Nurse review: The documentary is based on the book The Good Nurse by Charles Graeber.
Capturing the Killer Nurse review: The documentary is based on the book The Good Nurse by Charles Graeber.
BySantanu Das

Netflix's obsession with serial killer stories are on a strategic high run these days. A few days ago it was announced that Ryan Murphy would return with the Jeffrey Dahmer series turned into an anthology with two more seasons based on serial killers. Even The Watcher, the fact-based story of a New Jersey family being threatened by an anonymous stalker, would return with another season. Now there is Capturing the Killer Nurse, a chilling documentary directed by Tim Travers Hawkins, that delves into the decades-long journey of a registered nurse named Charles Cullen who killed his patients while on duty. This documentary arrives weeks after the feature film directed by Tobias Lindholm, The Good Nurse, that starred Eddie Redmayne as Charles Cullen. The cycle thus created by Netflix is complete, either you watch the drama first or the documentary- the serial killer story must be told. (Also read: House of Secrets The Burari Deaths review: Netflix show goes beyond gory details, re-examines case that gripped nation)

Based on the book The Good Nurse by Charles Graeber, the documentary instantly delves onto the mysterious deaths that occurred under Cullen's watch. Cullen was a registered nurse who worked on for 16 years, changing nine hospitals in the process- the reasons never really given importance. The patients under his watch were administered drugs, and died as a result of heart-failure immediately after. The medicines were taken from the hospital itself, and yet nothing was reported or came into light. When he was finally arrested in December 2003, he confessed to having killed around 29 patients in the same way, saying that he couldn't see them hurt and relieved them of their pain. But that was not true, as Amy Loughren, his colleague and friend at Somerset Medical Center promptly says. The patients who were murdered by Cullen were recovering fast, and were on the way to getting discharged from the hospital. So there's no way that his claim of being a mercy killer was true.

Amy Loughren, who turns into the principle voice of reason in the entire process, also recalled how Cullen was also an excellent nurse and took care of her while she was working with a severe health condition. Yet, when Loughren, in a conversation wired by the two detectives Danny Baldwin and Tim Braun, confronted Cullen about his deeds in the name of casual lunch, his posture completely changed. This was a different man altogether, Loughren admitted. “It wasn’t darkness, it wasn’t a monster, it was just nothingness,” she said. Cullen is now incarcerated with 11 life sentences. Although he admitted to having killed 29 patients, experts believe that the actual number is around 400.

The main question that haunts Capturing the Killer Nurse is how did this person get away for such a long time. The intentional negligence of the system that he was a part of, mainly because of the publicity and the negative image that would follow, was Cullen's hiding ground. Tim Travers Hawkins' documentary is less concerned with the serial killer's past, and more on tracking the investigation itself. Only sketchy details of Cullen's personal life, of having abused his pets, are revealed. It provides no better view of his journey into becoming a remorseless person. Along with co-writer Robin Ockleford, Hawkins is more interested in recreating the scenes in the hospital- shadowy figures behind curtains, tracking hospital rooms, the readings of the codes, combined with ominous background music, that lowers the impact of the chilling true story into a clichéd dramatization. The timelines are also interspersed several times over, less interested in giving us a straightforward coverage of events. Lindholm's film, in contrast, where Jessica Chastain plays Amy Loughren, feels much more focused and rewarding in its unforced dramatization of the events. Fortunately, for both these versions, it is revealed that Cullen himself didn't show any sign of remorse or give any specific reason for his actions.

Even as Cullen's actions come to light, Capturing the Killer Nurse fittingly spotlights on the moral depravity of the collective healthcare system that so surreptitiously held back his name only because of their economical interests. Hawkins' documentary is horrifying, in the revelation that the healthcare executives who are supposed to look after human life have been enabling a serial killer under its hood. At the end, it is a system that doesn't dare to look into the eye.

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