“Grant’s film treads a fine line of stone-faced humour, exploitation, and bloody violence, but a female centric cast and memorable performances make this an energetic and curious calling card”
As the credits roll abruptly onto the screen in the epilogue of Bree Grant’s ghoulishly enjoyable comedy 12 Hour Shift, you’ll be sad the carnage has come to a halt and wondering why Grant’s name isn’t immediately familiar. On the back of this, it really should be. Having said that, on first impressions, 12 Hour Shift runs the risk of putting you off from the start with its openly stupid premise of criminal organ dealing inside an under-staffed Arkansas hospital and a host of insufferable, irredeemable characters. It’s a credit to Grant’s easy control of her own chaos, and a star-making turn from Angela Bettis as the drug-addicted, homicidal organ stealer – who horror diehards may recognise from Lucky McKee’s sadistically niche May (2002) – that the film remains simple fun and rarely in the bad taste that it might otherwise have been.
Mandy (Bettis) starts her graveyard shift not with a soda as her partner in crime Karen (Nikea Gamby-Turner) cryptically suggests but with a line of drugs. This is not the hospital you want to end up in, especially when intoxicated nurses are when things are running smoothly – it’s a whole different nightmare when things go bad. Mandy and Karen have a good thing going with their morally questionable operation, carefully picking their targets based on how close they already are to death. Mandy’s preferred choice of afterlife delivery is bleach, and the first of many deadpan laughs comes when she puts the bottle away in frustration at having been caught; the poor man hooked to a dialysis machine is none the wiser and wants his tele turned up. Everybody is either terrible or oblivious in this decrepit hospital, but Bettis plays Mandy with such relatable exhaustion and blunt frustration that you can only feel for her when things slide brutally south.
Much of the film succeeds on how quickly you warm to Mandy’s perpetual frown lines and cynical exasperation towards everything and everybody around her. Fortunately, Bettis’ performance is so captivating that this is never an issue. Aside from her nurse in crime Karen, the only other person in on the organ dealing is Mandy’s cousin, the volcanic, consistently destructive Regina (a blistering, scene-stealing Chloe Farnworth) who approaches her black-market occupation as if she’s delivering fish and chips to the local mob. She keeps the organs in a cooler, which is also where she keeps her soda cans. Usually, Regina simply picks up the organs left outside of the hospital, conveniently stashed beside her favourite soda machine, and then delivers them to her buyer in her non-conspicuous ultra-pink car. Except, this is a night where everything that can go wrong, will go wrong, and then it will go wrong again. Naturally, the organs go missing – but only after Regina has forgotten to pack them with her drinks. The culprit behind the theft is kept hidden until the film’s final moments, revealed with a sharp sense of comic timing and another example of how Brant brings all of her oddball pieces back into focus, no matter how out of control they may have been to begin with.
With an empty cooling box and mob boss on her tail, Regina gets the bright idea that she’ll simply take an organ herself from one of the many patients sleeping inside the hospital. Surely, it can’t be that difficult, even if she doesn’t know the number of kidneys a person is born with. If the central premise feels especially bone-headed silly, it’s energised by the chemistry of Farnworth and Bettis who make an entertaining, increasingly explosive double act, Betty’s scolding indifference balancing the feral, messy-haired, vomit-stained Regina on her quest for an unauthorised kidney. Mayhem ensues when both women start slicing into people, unravelled further by the arrival of incompetent police and David Arquette as a woefully underused cop killer. Sadly, Arquette does nothing at any point in the film other than try to look menacing by scowling at every opportunity. It’s a stretch to say he’s in 12 Hour Shift, only there as a household name, but Arquette helped produce it so that more or less explains his inclusion. He feels like an unnecessary distraction.
The comedy of errors script and screwball characters are a reliable concoction to create a sense of controlled mischief, but Grant stirs in other ingredients too such as a refreshingly daring musical diversion at odds with the violence behind the scenes but also not betraying the film’s confident style and sense of anything-goes fun. Unravelling throughout one terrible night, there’s a real energy to the dully framed and otherwise sterile hospital corridors and parking lots; a lot of it down to the escalating snowball of mishaps which makes 12 Hour Shift feel part situational improv and part scripted malevolence, not that far away from something like Birdman (2014).
12 Hour Shift may not do much to push the boat or cement its status in the long run, but in the moment, there’s no denying that this wicked hospital bloodbath has your undivided attention. Grant’s film treads a fine line of stone-faced humour, exploitation, and bloody violence, but a female-centric cast and memorable performances make this an energetic and curious calling card for several talents who we should be seeing more often. It may have been a gruelling night for Mandy, but 12 Hour Shift flies past.
Director: Brea Grant
Producers: David Arquette, Michael May, Christina McLarty Arquette, Jordan Wayne Long, Tara Perry
Cast: Angela Bettis, Nikea Gamby-Turner, Chloe Farnworth, David Arquette
Release Date: 2020
Available on: Digital download 25 January 2021
Feature image courtesy of Signature Entertainment