12 HOUR SHIFT (2020)
Directed & Written by Brea Grant
Stars: Angela Bettis, David Arquette, Chloe Farnworth, Mick Foley
Lucky you got family checks on you.
12 Hour Shift is a true gem of a movie! Writer-director Brea Grant’s ode to the fucked-up-ness of life in Arkansas in 1999, 12 Hour Shift (2020), was the movie I was most looking forward to watching at this year’s virtual Fantasia Fest. The acting, the story, the music, and the attention to fine detail made watching this long-anticipated movie a treat!. Like a master storyteller, Grant splays out her characters like a group of spinning quarters whirling around a tabletop. They ricochet off of each other in unpredictable ways, fall over or sail over the table’s edge.
Fueled by the Opioid Epidemic and anxiety over the impending Y2K crisis, Nurse Mandy (Angela Bettis) begins her 12-hour shift at the hospital already looking like she has gone through Hell and come back. She carries three important secrets: She is addicted to painkillers, which she helps herself from the patient’s pill trays. Her brother is dying of a drug overdose in the same hospital. And her side job, to harvest organs for sale on the black market for local crime-lord Nicholas, has hit a snag. Things go horribly awry during her double shift when an irresponsible courier loses a bag full of organs, a violent prisoner escapes his guard, and one of Nicolas’ thugs shows up to collect the missing organs, or their equivalent.
Watching Mandy crushing and snorting her stolen medications is a poignant reminder of the mortal danger she is in. But this is not a movie about suffering addicts. At its stolen heart, 12 Hour Shift is about a woman caught in a living hell.
From the get-go, the film benefits from strong yet subtle performances from its two leading actors. As Mandy, Angela Bettis gives a flawless performance as she struggles to replace the missing organs, protect her brother, and stave off withdrawal symptoms. Chloe Farnworth is her cousin Regina, the manic pixie dream girl of death, driving around in her pink Corvette. Their faces and bodies surreptitiously communicate unspoken volumes to the audience, unseen by their fellows. This makes the chaotic world they live in small and intimate for the audience.
Backing Mandy and Regina is a well fleshed out and noteworthy cast of characters. Every person on-screen adds something vital to the story. Nikea Gamby-Turner, Tara Perry, and Brooke Seguin hold the fort down as Mandy’s tireless co-workers. David Arquette plays the escaped criminal with a pathological hatred for the police, and he wreaks havoc with glee and gusto. Dusty Warren plays Mikey, and the rat-tail sporting henchman tasked with retrieving the missing organs is both menacing and yet still very human.
Mandy is literally trapped in her job. The film begins when Mandy reports for her shift and does not end until the next day. She never leaves the hospital; it is her personal ring of Hell. Our tour guide to the depths is caught in a never-ending, worsening cycle brought on by her addiction and the faltering world around her. This is the bleakest moment of the film as Grant shows us there is no escape for Mandy.
Matt Glass’ fresh soundtrack is an enjoyable high point of the movie. It injects lively commentary to the story keeps provides a buoyant spirit to the proceedings. He mixes classical, jazz, and hip hop elements to provide an inventive rhythm for contemplative moments and the audacious action pieces. The lovely duet of the hymn “Are You Washed in the Blood” provides an ironic counterpoint as Mandy and Regina find themselves drenched in blood from their misdeeds.
The rapid-fire dialogue and deft comedic timing make 12 Hour Shift a dark and grim screwball comedy. The characters scramble about gibing humorous one-liners at each other and receiving funnier rejoinders. The final third of the film is a farcical game of hide-n-seek in the corridors of the hospital. But underneath the ludicrous antics is a morbid pall as comatose junkies, random body parts, and killers fly up and down the halls.
It was worth the wait to watch this exciting film. Grant adroitly spun her quarters in such a way that the viewer couldn’t help be drawn into the chaotic mess of their lives. 12 Hour Shift streaming now on many major VOD platforms.
12 HOUR SHIFT
Journey through the heart of darkness8.5/10
Gloriously sublime moments9.8/10
- Humor masks unbearably grim premise
- Well constructed, taut thriller
- Amazing performances
- Angela Bettis is a national treasure
- Exceptional soundtrack