12 Hour Shift is the sophomore feature from one Brea Grant, who horror fans will be intimately familiar with as an actor in the likes of Dexter, Beyond the Gates, After Midnight, the recent Lucky, which she also co-wrote, and plenty more besides. Grant is a beloved and prolific screen presence, but it’s been a long seven years since her attention-grabbing directorial debut, Best Friends Forever, was released. Thankfully, the wait has been more than worth it, as Grant’s second offering is a remarkably dark, twisted, and proudly female-centric horror-comedy powered by a streak of pure anarchy.
The exotic setting is an Arkansas hospital in glorious 1999 where Mandy, the anti-heroine of the piece, makes minor ducats at a thankless job, as Cher so succinctly put it in Clueless just a few years prior. Mandy isn’t really a people person, but she’s competent, maybe even too good at her job when you consider the habitual drug user is running a lucrative organ selling racket on the side, with the help of the dim-witted Regina (a delightfully unhinged Chloe Farnworth), a member of Mandy’s family she’d disown in a heartbeat if only someone would pay good money to take Regina off her hands.
Regina’s boss is the oily Nicholas, played by legendary WWE babyface Mick Foley in a snazzy jacket, in the second role cast totally against type alongside David Arquette as a bloodthirsty serial killer being held in the hospital while he recovers from a brawl (the actor and his wife produce here, too). Both men are known for being lovable goofballs, but here they work extra hard to exude menace, and it mostly works (Foley is still good, after all). This is a predominantly female cast though and Grant ensures the focus remains on Mandy, Regina, and everybody working around them, whether they’re clueless or heavily involved in the plot.
All is going to plan, it’s just a regular, miserable night shift, until an organ goes missing, landing both Regina and, crucially, Mandy in the proverbial. Soon, the hospital is locked down (topical!) and nobody is allowed in or out, leading to a race against time to replace the missing body parts (“Maybe that’s what you’re good for…parts,” Regina is menacingly told at one point) – yes, that’s parts plural – before it’s too late. Rather than just being a regular 12 hour shift, it becomes the longest 12 hour shift imaginable because, oh yeah, Mandy still has to do her job on top of everything else.
First and foremost, let me just point out that only women write female characters like Mandy and Regina. Men need women to fit into little pre-assigned boxes – The Slut, The Good Girl, The Train Wreck, whatever it is – but women understand that our kind contains multitudes. We’re capable of being a million different things at once. We’re loaded with contradictions and react in ways that don’t often make sense. Only female writers allow their characters the freedom to act badly without fear of reproach, or without feeling the need to punish them cruelly (and often graphically) in the final act.
Mandy isn’t a good person. She’s got kindness in her heart, but it’s been hardened over years of caring for people who don’t care in return, including the brother who’s overdosed yet again and whose addiction clearly breaks Mandy’s heart. She has one friend in the hospital, really a co-conspirator, but the boss treats everybody like trash. And yet, there’s a sense that this is, in many ways, Mandy’s calling in life and she couldn’t give up nursing even if she wanted to. Horror legend Angela Bettis plays Mandy like a ticking time bomb about to go off, all hushed, prophetic pronouncements and evil looks.
Farnworth, meanwhile, is a terrific physical comedian, whether she’s wiggling her Shih Tzu hairstyle (a constant source of hilarity and a great visual metaphor for how dopey she is) around or desperately trying to be sexy while covered in bodily fluids. There’s an innocence to Regina that ping-pongs nicely off Mandy’s brash cynicism, but she proves herself to be surprisingly resourceful, too, frighteningly so in fact. 12 Hour Shift is bone-dry and darkly funny, but it’s far from joyless. A strangely sweet singalong feels simultaneously out of place and yet perfectly matched to the increasingly bizarre situation, while a scene involving a security guard dancing down a hallway, Discman in hand (he must have anti-skip tech) is jarring but, again, also weirdly fitting.
Grant makes a lot of brave, interesting choices here. As a filmmaker, she’s not afraid to take chances, whether it’s casting Dewey Riley as a bad guy or peppering her sharp screenplay with lines about not liking it “when people call women ‘nuts.’” Meanwhile, Matt Glass’s bizarre, operatic score, which is tinged with metallic notes, further accentuates how little interest Grant has in pandering to the predominantly white, male, straight establishment. Her movie is weird and proud of it. Hell, even casting an older woman as her lead is an act of defiance on Grant’s part. It makes a much-needed statement about the lack of diversity in roles for women in horror, something with which Grant the actress is likely to be hugely familiar.
Men do feature in 12 Hour Shift. The bumbling cop tasked with assessing the situation is a man, clearly witnessing the most action he’s ever seen on the job, and Arquette pops up here and there just to keep the penis quota above board (as always, we could’ve done with more of him, but the focus is resolutely female and that’s admirable, so no matter). Plainly speaking, however, a man could not have made this movie. To go even further, only Brea Grant could’ve made this film. 12 Hour Shift is a calling card for a voice that’s been dying to break out, the kind of voice we need so desperately right now, and a voice we hopefully won’t have to wait another seven years to hear from again.
WICKED RATING: 8/10
Director(s): Brea Grant
Writer(s): Brea Grant
Stars: Angela Bettis, Chloe Farnworth, Mick Foley, David Arquette
Release date: October 2, 2020
Studio/Production Company: HCT Media
Run Time: 86 minutes