Ratched: Netflix’s prequel series to Kesey’s classic novel is gothic Halloween fun

Image Courtesy of Collider

As the spooky season approached, one couldn’t help but look a little further than Hocus Pocus or The Corpse Bride for a slice of Halloween entertainment. After a considerably stale year for entertainment, audiences are deserving of something a little fresher and are ready and waiting to be shocked; not just terrorized by another typical horror film either. Enter Ratched, a Netflix psychological thriller co-created by Evan Romansky and Ryan Murphy.

The first series starts off with Edmund Tolleson (Finn Wittrock) murdering four priests in their own home and sentenced to Lucia State Hospital, a mental institution. The protagonist, Mildred Ratched (Sarah Paulson), the same titular character introduced in Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, sneaks in undercover as a nurse to save her brother from the death penalty.

Naturally, the narrative isn’t such smooth sailing. There are lots of characters who come up along the way to excite Nurse Ratched’s initial quest. Evil villain with monkey on shoulder? Check. A nurse with half a face? Check. And as for Nurse Ratched, she is like a cat who has brought you a dead mouse but isn’t sure why you’re screaming.

Paulson’s character is a testament to the term psychological thriller, with something sinister in her smile even when it is sincere. Ratched’s humble fascination for the twisted, her sexual fantasies and strange outbursts of human compassion are compelling. Each character is as well developed as the last, even when entering halfway through the season.

Perhaps a little over assuming of mental illness at times, the patients seem to be brimming with violence and ready to kill. This generalisation of mental hospitals as a stereotypical horror setting has been long overused. But with a plot that keeps on giving, I’m willing to let it slide.

There was something so refreshing about a series less predictable than a horror and a lot prettier than any psychological thriller I’ve seen before. As a matter of fact, the show is deliciously decadent. Set in the late forties, any lover of a period drama would appreciate the costumes and art decor of the time. Even the hospital is fancy.

Ratched takes all the stylistic conventions of a Hitchcockian film and adds a contemporary twist. Think The Shining as we steer down long winding roads to a hospital fit with endless corridors. Split screens and an intriguing use of coloured lighting are notable too.

During a harrowing realisation or flashback, a character will be plunged into gel lights of turquoises, greens and reds. A firework display for any screen enthusiast, the careful attention to the colour scheme is gorgeous to look at. Everything seems so naturally and beautifully placed, even the deaths.

Perhaps the real fright of the show, however, is the light it sheds on the misconceptions and mistreatments of mentally ill patients, particularly during the mid-twentieth century. Little boys are punished for daydreaming and women are boiled alive for lesbianism. Yes, it is horrific to watch, but it is all the more terrifying knowing this happened in real life as well.

Towards the end of the series, the story becomes quite the female empowerment tale as relationships are kindled and women pull together to keep the hospital running. I would say, however, the season mellows out near the end. Perhaps the show would benefit from a few scene cuts to keep the action going. Nevertheless, one is still ready for more.

Series one ends on a mysterious cliff-hanger, with Nurse Ratched a wanted woman as a Buick peels out of a gas station and takes down the dusty road to who knows where.

Ratched is available to stream on Netflix.