12 HOUR SHIFT
Directed by Brea Grant
“Did you see 12 Hour Shift?” After its screening on day 2, this was maybe the most frequently asked question at FrightFest (incidentally, I didn’t – I saw the similarly accomplished Triggered). It was the film that set the standard for all others that followed. Luckily FrightFest isn’t the only game in town, so I was absolutely delighted to see our friends in the north of England showing it too. A pitch-black comedy of errors, Brea Grant’s latest is among the most stressful, quirkiest films of the year. And marks her down as one for fans of independent horrors and thrillers alike to watch.
Angela Bettis, who any horror fan worth their weight in blood will recognise from the films of Lucky McKee among others, stars as Mandy. At the turn of the millennium, she’s an overworked, overstressed nurse, exhausted long before her double shift starts. Everyone needs things from her, and her work seems to be severely understaffed. She’s also got some secrets that, if they got out, would ruin what modest a life she’s got for herself. For one, she’s self-medicating ala Nurse Jackie. She’s also in the organ trafficking business, stealing and supplying various body parts with her chronically unreliable cousin (by marriage) Regina (Farnworth). Today, they’re trying to move around a kidney that’ll be used on the black-market by a ruthless biker gang led by Nicholas (former wrestling royalty Mick Foley). But after some carelessness, the kidney gets misplaced, leaving it to Mandy and her hapless accomplice to source another. This biker gang aren’t the sort of people who are ok with being told no.
The first thing to mention about 12 Hour Shift is it’s real grim. In their quest for another kidney, Mandy and Regina mess around with dead bodies, debate the most worthy candidates for harvesting and try to kill off old people with bleach. The second is it’s also real funny. Grant’s script is fairly scant, with the characters’ backing stories playing second fiddle to the present-day pandemonium. However, she escalates the increasingly ludicrous story well, with the sense that everything that can go wrong will. It’s organised chaos, with Grant successfully spinning several plates, not dropping any until the climax – where they all fall at once. Much of this comes from Bettis and Farnworth who are excellent together. Each puts completely different energy into her performance – Bettis does southern drawl, with her stony face hinting at the many bad things that have worn her down over time. She isn’t necessarily a bad person but does do bad things. Whereas Farnworth makes Regina a reckless, flamboyant fun-loving hick. These two aren’t just opposites – they’re occupying completely different realities. Which makes their scenes together something to be cherished.
There are some problems with the film – namely the budgetary issues prevent the sets from being particularly immersive, and while funny the incompetence of the cops limits the tension. To be fair, Grant has made a little superb film with the budget she had, and potentially the material would be far less fun if the police acted like a real police squad. Part of the movie’s appeal is that it doesn’t resemble real life, presenting an exaggerated version of reality where moral complications come secondary to a fucked-up farce. Perhaps if we had to dwell on the people in pursuit of them, then we’d also have to think about how horrible our leads actually are. Besides, people sometimes even break into song and dance for the fun of it. Nonetheless, there’s a balance to be struck, with without us fearing the consequences of the characters’ actions then it means the dramatic impact suffers being nothing really matters. Another thing Grant could have done is spent longer developing either the gang or the David Arquette shaped plot device that shows up every so often. Even if the police aren’t any good at their jobs, then characters who are even worse morally than our leads could have injected some extra tension into proceedings. It would have gone nicely with balancing out the adrenaline.