How Netflix has sold a true life serial killer drama
True crime stories are all the rage at the moment. Not that they haven’t been for a long while now, but the current resurgence seems driven by the popularity of podcasts like “Serial” and the endless subsequent knockoffs that dive deep into certain stories. Of late Netflix, Hulu and others have worked hard to keep up a steady stream of documentaries, feature films, series and other content based on famous cases.
Joining that sub-genre is this week’s new Netflix release The Good Nurse. Based on author Charles Graeber’s 2013 book, the story revolves around Amy Loughren (Jessica Chastain), an ICU nurse with a life-threatening heart condition, and Charles Cullen (Eddie Redmayne), another nurse who also happens to be a serial killer. When the hospital the two work at experiences a string of unexplained patient deaths, Amy begins to suspect her coworker may have something to do with them.
Tobias Lindholm directs the film, with a screenplay by Krysty Wilson-Cairns. Let’s dive into the marketing campaign Netflix has mounted.
announcements and casting
Lionsgate was originally developing the movie, including in mid-2018 when Chastain and Redmayne were cast.
Then in early 2020 Netflix acquired the project and officially moved it into production. Noah Emmerich, Nnamdi Asomugha and others were added to the supporting cast in early 2021 in advance of filming.
Footage from the film was included in Netflix’s 2022 feature film preview.
Redmayne, Lindholm and Chastain were interviewed in July about how they approached the project and how they all worked together. First look stills accompanied that interview.
A set of first look stills came out around the same time.
the marketing campaign
As the trailer (2.4m YouTube views), released in September, opens, Amy and Charles are catching up after he’s been away from work for a while, an absence he’s not keen to discuss. We then flashback to see the two of them working together as well as establishing Amy is a single mom. When police begin questioning a handful of patient deaths that seem to form a pattern she starts to investigate his background herself. Only then do we go back to the opening scene, which is now presented as Amy trying to get Charles to confess on tape.
The only poster for the film came out at the same time. It simply shows the faces of Amy and Charles blending into one another, which doesn’t necessarily offer anything creepy or explain much about the story. The only hints are in the copy reading “Based on the unthinkable true story,” but what makes the story unthinkable is unclear here.
Later in September the movie screened at the Zurich Film Festival where Redmayne talked about how he was intrigued by the script and excited at working with both Chastain and Lindholm. It also went on to screen at the BFI London Film Festival.
An extended spot released in the middle of October takes a slightly different approach from the trailer. It features a lot of footage already seen, but arranges it in a way to heighten the tension of Amy’s staged diner conversation with Charles.
Both stars took part in a featurette conversation about working together, the process they go through while acting and more.
At the film’s New York City premiere Chastain talked about the nerve-wracking experience of performing as the real life Amy Loughren looked on from behind the cameras. An interview with Redmayne had him pointing out Lindholm cast him against type for this role and what an exciting challenge that turned out to be.
The two stars also were on the red carpet at the recent Academy Museum Gala in Los Angeles.
Netflix put out a clip just as the movie was available showing more of a look at the confrontation between Amy and Charles.
As stated above, this campaign isn’t all that creepy save for a few key moments of Redmayne looking menacing.
Instead the focus is more on the performances of the two leads and the fact that this is based on a true story. On that front it hits pretty well but also doesn’t contain much that sets it apart.
That’s particularly so when you consider Netflix has had a lot of publicity recently for their series about Jeffrey Dahmer. So the company has a true-crime dramatization that’s made headlines and maybe didn’t have the bandwidth for another big promotional push on a similar topic.