At last year’s Fantasia Fest I discovered one of my favorite films of 2019 in the searing neo-noir Blood on Her Name. It’s a thrill I’ve chased ever since; looking for complex, dark, and intense female-led movies that buck expectations and make me excited about indie cinema. This year’s all digital festival has offered me some delightful moments, including the wonderfully weird and interior feminist slasher Lucky starring Brea Grant. Apparently the multi-hyphenate creator is my lucky charm as she’s the writer/director behind one of the true standouts from Fantasia Fest 2020, the grimly gruesome comedy of errors 12 Hour Shift.
Mandy (Angela Bettis) is a nurse at a small clinic in Arkansas. She’s got a serious opioid addiction and a 12 hour shift to get through. That would have been hard enough except she’s also part of a shoddily run illegal organ smuggling ring. Plus her hair-brained cousin, Regina (Chloe Farnworth), just lost the newest piece of merchandise. Her boss Nicholas (Mick Foley) is less than happy and so Regina is on a mission to find a new kidney. It’s with this pitch-black setup that Grant throws us into a nightmarish night in 1999 in which everything that can go wrong does. Aside from the crimes and multiple deaths, Grant’s workplace horror manages to feel relatable to anyone who has had to do a double shift that never ever seems to end.
Bettis drives the anxiety-inducing plot forward as the central anti-heroine. Though her actions are undoubtedly evil, Grant does a great job of showing us that an equivalent menace is a medical system that sees people as profit rather than patients. The grimiest moments of the film often come simply from the clinic’s disgusting lack of care and compassion. Farnworth is arguably the film’s true villain. She plots and schemes to murder as many people as she has to in order to get a kidney. But don’t be fooled into thinking you can lay the blame at just one pair of feet; 12 Hour Shift is an ensemble piece of f*cked-up characters and their terrible decisions.
Nikea Gamby-Turner is the film’s secret weapon as Karen, the only sensible–but far from innocent–person in the clinic. She’s a grounding presence to Regina’s mania; a bright spark of light next to Mandy’s muted acceptance. Gamby-Turner also happens to be incredibly funny. As the tension ramps up to a near unbearable level, she offers a few moments of true relief. It’s the kind of subtly great performance from which genre films always benefit but rarely achieve. She completes the leading trio of Farnworth and Bettis perfectly.
Cinematographer and composer Matt Glass’ brilliant score accentuates the ever-more-nerve-shredding events. Pulsing, pounding, and often aurally off-putting in the best way, it’s the kind of score that perfectly accompanies Grant’s vision and never takes its foot off your neck as you uncomfortably try to find a moment to breathe.
Although 12 Hour Shift is on the surface a grimy crime movie—the kind we rarely get to see women lead—Grant imbues it with the tone and atmosphere of a slasher. Except you don’t really realize you’re watching it from the point of view the killers until around halfway through. She understands the tropes, archetypes, and beats of the genre so well that we hardly notice until all hell truly breaks loose. And break loose it does. The final act of the movie is one of the most intense, ridiculous, and funny finales I’ve seen in awhile.
Overall, 12 Hour Shift is a wonderfully gross and grimy little crime film, made and led by brilliant women, that offers no judgement and a gruesomely good time at the (home) movies.
Header Image: Magnolia Pictures