La Dosis (The Dose) immediately immerses viewers in an all-too-timely nightmare, opening in the last place any of us want to be right now — the intensive care unit of a hospital. Although it doesn’t take place in the present circumstances of the pandemic, the dark cloud of COVID looms over every frame of the film. 

In the opening shot, the camera hovers above a dying patient like an angel waiting to take her to heaven. But senior nurse Marcos (Carlos Portaluppi) intervenes, shocking her with a defibrillator one last time after the doctors have called her time of death. He brings the woman back despite her terminal condition. However, Marcos isn’t all about saving lives. Late at night, he slips deadly doses of medicine into patients’ veins, putting them out of their misery.

Marcos suppresses his emotions by sticking to a routine: taking the bus to the hospital, working the same shifts, eating a can of peas every night. Portaluppi captures the depression and anxiety boiling beneath Marcos’ stoic surface. He makes you feel the enormous toll of his 20 years of nursing. 

Marcos’ world turns upside down when a green, gregarious nurse named Gabriel (Ignacio Rogers) struts into the unit. Gabriel switches shifts around, brown-noses the doctors and makes treatment decisions without Marcos’ approval. Worst of all, while Marcos euthanizes patients out of mercy, Gabriel does so for pleasure. 

La Dosis isn’t a conventional horror film. Writer-director Martin Kraut’s approach to the subject matter is as cold and clinical as the film’s setting. Marcos’ discovery of Gabriel’s deadly deeds isn’t a big scare moment. And Gabriel isn’t written or portrayed as a diabolical madman. What’s truly terrifying is the seemingly endless roll of red tape holding Marcos back from bringing Gabriel to justice — as well as the equally incriminating information Gabriel has against him. It’s scary to see a cat-and-mouse game play out between two corrupt individuals in a place where lives depend upon these people doing the right thing. 

La Dosis is a quietly powerful feature-length debut from Kraut. The film’s subdued style makes it all the more unsettling. Cinematographer Gustavo Biazzi’s distanced camerawork makes you feel like you’re looking after a sick loved one only through glass, thus adding to the loneliness and anxiety of the current times. Near the end of the film, the dull green-and-blue color palette is jarringly defaced with giallo-like splashes of blood. 

A hospital is a fitting setting for a horror film right now. La Dosis isn’t the kind of horror film that will haunt your dreams, but it will surely linger in your mind as you doomscroll through news stories of the neverending nightmare unraveling before our eyes. 

The 29th Annual Heartland Festival will be held October 8-18, 2020, with both virtual and drive-in screening options. Check out the official website for screening times and ticket information.