“Did you ever smell sadness?”
Films may not be able to give off scents (yet), but 12 Hour Shift, with its washed out yellow walls and harsh fluorescent lighting, practically reeks of anesthetic and musty hospital bedsheets. And a little bit of sadness. But that sadness is quickly overtaken by the bizarro bloodbath that unfolds in Bea Grant‘s stylish, darkly comic thriller.
Angela Bettis stars Mandy, a worn out ER nurse working at a small rural hospital in 1999 Arkansas. Tired, rail-thin, and wearing a permanent frown on her face, Mandy looks like she’s seen better days. But she’s about to experience the worse day of her life as she trudges through the rundown hospital, ignoring nagging patients and RNs, to start yet another double shift.
Mandy is your classic anti-hero — she snorts pills and steals patients’ medications and belongings – but the thing that will get her in trouble is a side-gig that she was reluctantly roped into by her cousin-in-law: black market organ dealing. Mandy smoothly passes off a bag of recently-harvested organs from the hospital morgue to her trashy, air-headed cousin Regina (a delightfully unhinged Chloe Farnworth), who soon misplaces the organs after a night of partying and convenience store parking lot hook-ups. Threatened by her intimidating black market organ trader boss, a desperate Regina returns to the hospital, where 12 Hour Shift has set up the perfect domino line of Chekhov’s guns: a hospitalized felon (David Arquette), an overdosed relative, and a really, really annoying hypochondriac patient.
12 Hour Shift has a sick sense of humor that makes its washed-out setting the perfect blank canvas for writer and director Grant to paint her gleefully bloody caper. The washed out colors and walls that make up the hospital, whose only décor is a series of bland inspirational posters, are almost triggering — it looks more like a sleepy retirement home than a hospital, with a numbing fog that coats the entire building and its staff and patients. Into that fog storms Regina, like a psychotic party girl tsunami, accompanied by a quirky percussive score (and occasionally, an ironic operatic aria) that drives the zippy pace of 12 Hour Shift. She demands new organs from an increasingly stressed Mandy, who has just spotted her estranged brother coming into the hospital for an overdose. Mandy curses out Regina for messing things up so completely before promising that she will get her new organs, if only she will get out of her hair. But Regina, dissatisfied with Mandy’s promises, decides to steal nurse’s scrubs and do the job herself, by killing a near-death patient and cutting out his kidneys.
Things rapidly unravel from there, as Regina goes on a desperate killing spree, which puts the hospital on lockdown as the exhausted nurses and thinly-staffed local police try to nail down the cause of the bizarre string of bloody accidents.
There’s a quirky, bonkers energy to 12 Hour Shift, which plays out like a Frankensteined neo-noir thriller and horror-comedy. There’s a B-movie scrappiness to the film that makes its enjoyable to watch, even as its bloody third act kind of goes off the rails, with one black market henchman (Dusty Warren) joining the fray in a terribly low-rent performance that nearly brings down the whole film. But thankfully Bettis and Farnworth are fantastic enough to keep 12 Hour Shift going — Bettis carrying the weight of the world on her slumped shoulders, Farnworth having a blast as the insane wild card.
12 Hour Shift is intensely aware that is a B-movie thriller, but has fun within the confines of the genre — not pretending to be anything more or less than it is. Grant even taps into the innate Coens Brothers-esque humor of dumb people getting involved in bad things. It all works thanks to Bettis’ stellar, weather-beaten, perpetually exasperated performance as a nurse who picked up the wrong shift.
/Film Rating: 6.5 out of 10