Fantasia Film Festival 2020
The newest film from actress-turned-writer-director Brea Grant is the sort of trashy comedic thriller that would make John Waters blush. 12 Hour Shift is an impressive sophomore feature with sharp editing, a killer soundtrack, and a sick sense of humour. It’s the sort of film that has all the ingredients of becoming a future cult classic thanks to its plenty of twists and unexpected moments of levity.
Set in a small rural Arkansas hospital at the turn of the 21st century, Angela Bettis plays Mandy, an overworked and underpaid nurse clocking in for a double shift. In order to support her drug addiction, she and another nurse harvest the organs from dying patients which they later sell to a group of black market organ-trading criminals (Mick Foley, Dusty Warren). The latest transaction, however, doesn’t go according to plan as her dim-witted and psychotic cousin Regina (Chloe Farnsworth), misplaces a kidney and sets in motion a series of events that turns their lives upside down.
12 Hour Shift isn’t without its share of flaws. For starters, it’s hard to believe that many of these characters could be so dumb; not to mention there’s an oddly placed subplot involving a murderer (played by David Arquette) that’s never fully explained— but that aside, 12 Hour Shift is a blast from start to finish. The script (which Grant also penned), is sharp, snappy, and full of surprises as Grant manages to make it brutally violent and shockingly funny in equal measure.
Grant also does a superb job of giving the film a very clear sense of style; it’s scored with a strange and invasive score that includes a fantastic musical interlude midway through the film of the well-known Christian hymn “Blood of the Lamb.” The majority of the film, in fact, feels like a musical, with its talented cast synchronizing their every move to the rhythm of each scene— and so it came as no surprise to learn that its composer, Matt Glass, is also credited as the producer and the cinematographer. Glass not only makes the pic sound great, but 12 Hour Shift looks great too!
Of course, it always helps when you’re shooting a low-budget film in one single location but let’s give credit where credit is due— 12 Hour Shift is expertly made. It may not be pretty, with its washed-out yellow walls, harsh fluorescent lighting, and bloody violence— but it does have style— in fact, the film is oozing with style.
12 Hour Shift also has a great cast. Angela Bettis shines as Mandy, delivering her best performance since her breakout in Lucky McKee’s May. Her character isn’t a hero. She relies on drugs to stay awake during her work shifts and she sells organs to the black market to make enough money to get by. Yet, despite her negligence, Bettis never lets us forget her human side and constantly finds ways to show how much she cares, even in some of the bloodiest and goriest scenes. It takes a truly talented director and actress to make us care and root for a character like her.
12 Hour Shift is surprisingly timely too, given the current Covid-19 crisis. Beyond all the genre trappings, Grant’s movie has something to say about the high-stress, low-pay, and often thankless profession that is nursing. One could argue that if someone like Mandy had a better salary and didn’t have to work so many double shifts, she would have never done the terrible things she felt she needed to do.
12 Hour Shift is certainly a strikingly assured feature— and a slick, despairingly funny piece of dark comedy that left me wanting more. Pitch black humor, abundant originality, a brilliant visual style, and an over-the-top third act make 12 Hour Shift, one of the best indie films of 2020.
Watch this film, and these filmmakers, closely. I expect they will produce bigger and better things ahead.
The Fantasia International Film Festival’s virtual event is composed of scheduled live screenings, panels, and workshops, taking place from August 20th to September 2nd, 2020. For more information, visit the Fantasia Film Festival website.