FrightFest 2020: 12 Hour Shift review

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A dark, inventive and quick brilliant film, here’s our review of 12 Hour Shift, that’s just played at FrighFest 2020.

It’s like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black.

Goodness me, 12 Hour Shift is a black comedy so dark that it has a squidgy cavern where its heart should be. That would, of course, be un-ideal for its organ harvesting characters.

Over the course of Mandy’s 12 hour shift as a nurse at a small American hospital, things get a little out of control. Aside from an organ hand off, where her cousin will collect a kidney on the sly for a black market transplant, it should have been a simple, if long night. But the kidney gets lost, a family member is unexpectedly admitted to the hospital and a convicted murderer arrives under police watch. Disorder seems to spread through the hospital, with buckets of deep red chaos flooding the corridor floors.

12 Hour Shift is a remarkable act of plate spinning. It has so much going on, and then within each of those unexpected plot elements is another three or four completely unexpected elements of problem. It may actually be more appropriate to describe it as juggling Russian dolls. To achieve the balance that this film does, where everything maintains momentum and nothing gets lost in the spin, is some feat. That it’s able to include moments of emotional weight and tragedy alongside its off-kilter laughs and some bizarre but brilliant visual asides is yet more impressive.

With so much going on it seems to this writer that 12 Hour Shift must have been a nightmare to write, a nightmare shoot and then a nightmare to edit. It is a joy to watch. At its best when its characters have found new ways to duck under the bar of basic human morality, only to bear unexpected and usually messy circumstances, it is surprising, brutal and exhilarating.

In only her second feature behind the camera Brea Grant writes and directs, marking herself as a filmmaker to watch. Her blend of violent chaos, likeable characters who feel authentically human and a sizeable splash of Todd Solondz style dark humour results in a film that produces so many unexpected and deeply felt laughs. It starts out with confidence, immediately establishing its disturbing sense of humour and warped characters, and then it just never lets up.

It’s odd that we seem to read so often read filmmakers lamenting that they simply aren’t allowed to make jokes any more for fear of offending the audience, and yet here’s Grant producing an independent comedy that’s bleak and full contact and so funny, all without needing to punch down.

At the centre of Grant’s film is a wonderful turn from Angela Bettis. Her Mandy is worn and simmering with anger that sits just beneath the surface. Yet, for all of her ‘I-have-to-deal-with-this-shit-too?’ attitude, for every problem she solves she carelessly triggers a new disaster in its place. It’s a real show of confidence in Grant’s writing that the main and most sympathetic character is allowed to do some of the awful things that Mandy does. Mandy is a character of contradictions; we see her perform acts of callous inhumanity and of great warmth.

12 Hour Shift is at its absolute best literally any second that Chloe Farnworth is on screen as the spun out Regina. Equal parts Harley Quinn and The Tasmanian Devil, she pinballs across the film, making bad decisions and leaving messy, violent consequences in her wake. Regina appears on screen and immediately loses a bag of human organs after becoming distracted by a vending machine, and it’s to the immense credit of 12 Hour Shift that it ends up being one of the least irresponsible things she does in the movie.

The cast is wonderful throughout, with a fun but brief turn from former pro wrestler Mick Foley a highlight, as is a guffaw-inducing turn as a dopey cop from Kit Williamson. Then there’s the joyfully wild turn from David Arquette, who seems to be having the time of his life as a deranged convict with violent but unfocused intentions.

12 Hour Shift arrives like an unexpected blow to the head. A burst of invention and chaos, Brea Grant has crafted a film that you’ll be ashamed to still be laughing at long after the credits have rolled. This is visually inventive, original cinema. You won’t want to miss it.

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