FANTASIA FESTIVAL REVIEW -’12 Hour Shift’ is a messy black comedy that gets lost amongst its own madness

Nobody likes a trip to the hospital, especially during a crippling pandemic. It’s a setting the horror movie genre has often tapped for all sorts of terrifying mayhem. However, it’s rare to find a black comedy set within the walls of an infirmary, given the difficulties of making light of a place of such misery. A sardonically dark comedy full of bloody violence and twisted humour, 12 Hour Shift has all the makings of something wickedly fun. If only the humour landed as well as the gallons of blood in a messy final product that finds itself lost amongst its own madness.

Traversing the titular 12-hour shift at a rural Arkansas hospital in 1999, Mandy (Angela Bettis) is an exhausted nurse about to begin an overnight double shift. With a scowl constantly on her face and a penchant for snorting pills to get through her each stint, Mandy is about to struggle through the workday from hell. To make extra cash on the side, Mandy sells organs through a black market trading scheme that’s about to get this nurse in all sorts of trouble.

After passing over a bag containing a freshly-harvested kidney elicited from a recently-deceased corpse in the hospital morgue to her white-trash, dimwitted “cousin” Regina (the scene-stealing Chloe Farnworth), Mandy believes she can tick one task off her long list of duties for the evening. There’s just one small problem; Regina misplaces the organs and has nothing to hand over to crime boss Nicholas (Mick Foley).

When Nicholas threatens to take Regina’s kidney if she doesn’t immediately locate the missing organ, she returns to the hospital in desperate search of a replacement. With little concern if she ascertains the kidney from the living or the dead, there’s plenty of potential victims for Regina to choose from; a terminally ill patient hooked up to a dialysis machine, a heavily-sedated elderly mother, and hospitalised convicted cop killer Jefferson (David Arquette) who’s currently handcuffed to his bed.

Proving to be a major thorn in the beleaguered nurse’s side, Mandy is forced to constantly clean up the mess her cousin leaves in her wake, as Regina goes on a misinformed and disastrous quest to find a kidney by any means necessary. Writer/director Brea Grant pushes an audience’s tolerance for frustration a touch too far, with the narrative ultimately spiralling out of control when Jefferson breaks free and the hospital is thrown into absolute chaos.

In the inherent issue with the disorderly tone of 12 Hour Shift is how wildly it fluctuates between black comedy and crime thriller, resulting in a film wedged between two different styles that never quite captures either effectively. It’s a film that simply tries to be too many things at once. While there are the occasional dry laughs to be elicited, Grant refuses to truly push the film into the potential dark comedy of such a manic situation, which leaves you yearning for more. Likewise with the heist angle of the narrative that forces its characters to make a series of ludicrous decisions for the sake of comedy that often fails to land as intended.

With Mandy front and centre for almost the entirety of the film, it’s left to Bettis to essentially carry the weight of the film. Thankfully, and unsurprisingly, she’s more than up to the task. Blessed with the only character in the film with meat on their bones, Bettis offers another sublime and sympathetic performance as the nurse at the end of her tether. In the hands of a lesser performer, Mandy would easily be a rather detestable character, but Bettis is so infectiously likeable, it’s hard not to root for the exhausted nurse to somehow make it through her tumultuous double shift.

While Regina becomes more increasingly (and purposely) irritating as the film barrels on, Farnworth is clearly having a ball playing such an outlandish role. She gets the lion’s share of the film’s laughs and her maniacally unhinged character is a hoot to behold. The yin-and-yang dynamic between the chatterbox, airhead Regina and the stoic, frustrated Mandy is perfectly executed by Farnworth and Mettis, with the two actors consistently displaying perfect timing throughout their interactions.

With the washed-out walls of the hospital offering very little for cinematographer Matt Glass to capture, 12 Hour Shift is far from a pleasant film in a visual sense. You can’t expect a B-movie thriller to look like a period masterpiece, but there’s a decidedly cheap look to this film that damages Grant’s directing efforts. When the blood finally arrives, the splash of red is a welcome respite for the eyes. Glass performs double duties as the film’s composer, injecting the narrative with a percussion-heavy score that compliments the action tremendously well.

For all its unfortunate foibles, there’s a pulsing energy throughout 12 Hour Shift that helps keep your interest over the course of a fresh and nutty narrative that suggests bigger things are yet to come from Grant. An ambitious undertaking that bites off more than it can chew, it’s a film with malevolence in its bones but lacking the confidence to take it to the psychotic level you may be hoping for.

Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Cast: Angela Bettis, Chloe Farnworth, Nikea Gamby-Turner, Kit Williamson, David Arquette
Director: Brea Grant
Producer: Christina Arquette, David Arquette, Jordan Wayne Long, Tara Perry, Matt Glass
Screenplay: Brea Grant
Cinematography: Matt Glass
Production Design: Gypsy Taylor
Costume Design: Gypsy Taylor
Music: Matt Glass

Editing: Amy McGrath
Running Time: 86 minutes
Release Date: 2nd October 2020 (VOD)

’12 Hour Shift’ plays as part of Fantasia International Film Festival 2020 from August 20 – September 2. For more information and tickets, head HERE. The film will also be debut on VOD on October 2.