“12 Hour Shift” is the sophomore feature-length directorial effort from writer/director Brea Grant after the dark comedy road trip film “Best Friends Forever”; and it looks like Grant has aimed for a larger canvas whilst keeping in the dark comedy genre. But with all the constant plate spinning of genres, characters, situations all within a single location (for the most part), does Grant succeed?
Set in the year of 1999, Angela Bettis stars as Mandy, a world-weary nurse who is on her last nerve during her 12-hour night shift. Alongside bearing the arduous hours at the hospital with her co-worker Karen (Nikea Gambey-Turner) and others, and her drug addiction; she runs a job on the side as a contributor to a black-market organ-trafficking scheme with her unruly cousin, Regina (Chloe Farnworth).
On a routine delivery, Regina loses a kidney delivery which upsets gangsters from the outside, led by Nicholas (an amusing cameo from Mick Foley). Willing to do anything to save her own skin, she desperately pleads with Mandy to find the delivery or make a replacement. With a growing sense of filial duty, Mandy reluctantly helps Regina out but the night becomes more chaotic when more rascally characters including wanted criminal, Jefferson (producer David Arquette, in an extended cameo) and the police, led by Officer Myers (Kit Williamson) enter the picture. It looks like the shift is gonna hit the fan.
Even with all the ingredients in play, Grant manages to keep all the plates spinning with an assured hand in her storytelling. The escalation in the stakes is smoothly handled as Grant clearly knows the story through-line is simple: get kidney transplant and get out.
The stakes, situations and especially the characters all fit into the tone that Grant is trying to convey, which the tonal balance between being both strangely sincere and weirdly idiosyncratic i.e. Mandy is lethargic of life expectations yet is knowledgeable and reluctantly committed to getting the job done (or in her case, blurring the Hippocratic oath); Myers is socially inept and always looking for the good in people despite being oblivious to the obvious deranged events in display; Karen is both cynical and content in the tedious workplace and yet is the voice of reason for Mandy during the shift.
“The stakes, situations and especially the characters all fit into the tone that Grant is trying to convey, which the tonal balance between being both strangely sincere and weirdly idiosyncratic.”
The cast all add credibility in making their characters effective. Whether it is about the laid-back charisma from Gambey-Turner, the goofy demeanour from Williamson, the bad-boy magnetism from Arquette and the wonderfully fed-up pessimism from Bettis; Grant has one hell of an ensemble to support her vision.
But the wild-card character here is Regina. Played with enjoyably wild abandon by Farnworth, Regina’s actions (which won’t be spoiled) are exhilaratingly unpredictable and raise the stakes wonderfully as she is essentially a wrecking ball that will swing all over the place; hitting everything and everyone in its path.
Grant also understands that horror and comedy are not completely incongruous in terms of build-up and payoff and she manages to extract the needed suspense from both fronts convincingly. The instances of violence and humour blend well as the blood and gore is amusingly overstated (complete with an ocular sight gag that is a hilarious eyesore) and the levels of comedy that is either snarky (Mandy’s view of the world) and physical (Regina’s desperate attempts to get a kidney is wonderfully screwball at times) bring ample mirth to the proceedings.
“12 Hour Shift” is a hilariously gory dark comedy that is sure to win over many with its elevated performances.”
The off-kilter touches in the film pay off in effective ways of foreshadowing and storytelling eg. Tom DeTrinis as an imposing hospital regular and the 1999 setting which evoke fears of Y2K (adding to the unhinged attitudes of the characters) and the lack of technology as a plot device (which destroys chances of plot conveniences).
As for the flaws of the film; there are instances where character decisions become contrived and feel a bit false in terms of character arcs i.e. Mandy’s decisions in the third act; and some supporting characters feel like plot devices that are extremely convenient in their presence to make the ending nearly tied up i.e. the use of Arquette’s character.
Overall, “12 Hour Shift” is a hilariously gory dark comedy that is sure to win over many with its elevated performances (especially from Bettis and Farnworth) and Grant’s assured handling of the story’s tonal shifts and the escalation of stakes. Recommended.
12 Hour Shift will be available on Video on Demand at October 2nd, courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.