Written by Becky Darke – exclusive reporter for FrightFest 2020
The blazing debut feature from writer/director Brea Grant, predominantly known until now for her acting roles in genre TV favourites Heroes (2016-2010) and Dexter (2006-2013), and horror features Beyond the Gates (2016) and After Midnight (2019), is a dark farce dripping with chaotic energy.
My favourite film of FrightFest 2020, 12 Hour Shift stars Angela Bettis (May, 2002 and The Woman, 2011) as increasingly frantic nurse Mandy, David Arquette – who also produced the film – as a gnarly murderer under guard in her hospital, Chloe Farnworth as her manic and infuriating cousin Regina, Mick Foley as black market gangster Nicholas, and a scene-stealing Nikea Gamby-Turner as head nurse Karen.
The movie is set against the trashy underside of Arkansas at the turn of the 21st century. Y2K prep goes on unobtrusively in the background, adding a sense of urgency and peculiarity to a story that’s essentially about underground organ harvesting. It’s funny and violent, a film of hapless cops, small time gangsters, and unexpected allegiances. It’s not unlike Fargo (1996) in its look, tone and sharply increasing body count.
12 Hour Shift, as the title suggests, plays out mainly in the hospital, so the dark story is told amongst soft colours and neon lights. The action and characters are mirrored by a frenetic score that draws on everything from classical to jazz to metal. We even get a little musical number, at first a nurse’s hymn in the chapel and then a Discman sing-a-long and corridor dance routine from a hunky paramedic.
Grant’s observational screenplay is peppered with acerbic wit, painting Mandy as a mean, dry and world-weary addict. She’s an unlikeable lead – a lying, thief junkie – but she’s compelling as hell and Bettis gives us an antihero to root for against the odds.
It’s easy to be hyperbolic about debuts, especially when they’re drenched in the heightened atmosphere of a festival like FrightFest, but 12 Hour Shift really is a confident powerhouse of a movie, and places Brea Grant firmly on the ones-to-watch list.
Verdict: 4 out of 5