Like a perverse reincarnation of the land of Oz, almost every frame of Ratched is tinged with aquamarine. Sometimes it’s soaked in it – the perfect contrast against those droplets of spilt blood, of course – sometimes it’s a curtain or a lampshade or an ornament arranged just-so.
It’s a recurring theme, though, recycled as readily throughout the provocative Netflix series as the lobotomies and gore.
If you know anything of creator Ryan Murphy’s previous projects, Ratched’s stunning cinematography, careful set dressing, and glorious costumes are unlikely to surprise you. Like American Horror Story before it, Ratched is unflinchingly violent and sexual as it exploits the follies of mid-century mental health care, exposing the more perverse “treatments” in a way that’s both compelling and deeply distressing.
Sarah Paulson takes the titular role, but if you’re a fan of Murphy, that’s unlikely to come as a surprise, either. Paulson excels in her portrayal of the character inspired by One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a mental health nurse with a razor-sharp focus: to work at the Lucia State Hospital. And even as Ratched reveals the horrors that unfold behind the thick doors of each patient’s room, it’s impossible not to be impressed with the facility’s cool art deco style and imposing stature.
For the most part, Ratched moves through the gears with poise and grace, masterfully revealing its key story beats in a way that rewards the armchair detective in us without ever truly putting us out of our misery. It’s deliciously gory too, juxtaposing that juicy red against its careful palette of blues and greens.
Admittedly, it’s not necessarily one to watch alongside your parents – like AHS, the show constantly trembles with sexual tension and expectation – but much of that titillation is tampered by some truly barbaric “treatments” (if Ratched is to be believed, experiments included forcibly encasing people in boiling water before plunging them into an iced-bath in a bid to forcibly “shock” away the gay).
Even Ratched – who herself appears to be a stitch short of the tapestry – is aghast at that one.
Ratched isn’t just a story of cheap thrills and bloody violence, though. Each member of the show’s cast are devilish in their own particular ways, from the cold fury of Ratched’s chief work-rival – well, we all have one, right? – Nurse Bucket (Judy Davis), to the hospitals chief medic, Dr. Hanover (Jon Jon Briones). And I’ve always been a fan of Amanda Plummer’s particular blend of neatly-contained hysteria – here she plays unsettling motel owner Louise.
There’s a lot going on here – few of us will be able to witness the visceral depictions of trepanning and not reflect on how this was once considered the cutting edge of modern medicine – but unlike American Horror Story before it, Ratched is more thoughtful and reflective. It utilizes Murphy’s signature brand of shock and gore to inform as well as entertain this time around.
Ratched is streaming now on Netflix worldwide.
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