Paper Mask (review)
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Paper Mask is a 1990 film directed by Christopher Morahan and starring Paul McGann and Amanda Donohoe. It is about a hospital orderly who, aspiring to be something greater, lands a job at a hospital by assuming the identity of a recently deceased doctor.
In a nutshell, Matthew Harris (McGann) is getting along fine as a hospital orderly but wants to do something more with his life. When a successful doctor at his hospital is killed in a car accident, Matthew is tasked with cleaning out his apartment. He stumbles upon the paperwork for a job for which the late doctor was in the running at another hospital. He decides to co-opt the paperwork and go for it, informally studying medicine on his own time. Though not remotely qualified, he lands the job because the doctor in charge of hiring was determined to hire the person he thinks Matthew is from the get-go.
Matthew is neither qualified nor prepared to be an emergency room doctor and stumbles badly during his first days on the job. A kindly nurse (Donohoe) takes pity on him, assuming him to merely be nervous about his new job, and helps him along. He appears to improve on the strength of her help. Romance blooms. And then Matthew starts to get cocky and everything starts to go wrong.
Paper Mask is an interesting film because it starts off almost whimsically, with comedic elements as Matthew attempts to pass himself off as a doctor. He does experience success in the ER, and when he saves the life of a woman brought in after a drug overdose the viewer's natural reaction is to be pleased. But the film takes a sharp left turn into thriller territory not long after that, when his lack of experience leads to another patient's death. Faced with a disciplinary hearing and questions about his competence, Matthew turns to increasingly desperate measures to keep his charade from unravelling.
The movie is highly unsettling. Without venturing into spoiler territory, anyone who's seen other movies in which a sympathetic main character is slowly revealed to be seriously unhinged will find familiar territory in Paper Mask.
While it's not the best film I've ever seen, the acting is decent and the story is compelling on account of it being so creepy. Apart from a few too many cutesy uses of "The Great Pretender" by The Platters, it's a decent B movie. Recommended if you like psychological thrillers. Not recommended at all if you're going to be in the hospital for any reason in the near future.