Making its pandemic-approved debut on the Tribeca Film Festival online library, director Brea Grant’s narrative feature surrounding a cranky nurse who just wants to get her black-market organs sold proves a more mundane endeavour than the potentially bloody fun black comedy promised by the premise. Starring Angela Bettis of the 2002 cult-favourite horror film May, 12 Hour Shift follows irritable Mandy, a nurse in the months preceding Y2K on her way to a double overnight shift at the hospital she works at. However, she’s been long in cahoots with a number of other employees who work to get her valuable goods out of unsuspecting patients.
But things take a turn when Mandy’s runner, her ditzy cousin-by-marriage Regina (Chloe Farnworth) accidentally forgets to put a bag of stolen organs into her transport cooler. When the two of them realise what’s happened after hours have already passed, the bag is missing from the meet-up spot where they left it. The ensuing chaos as the night unfolds involves both women trying to figure out the best and fastest way possible to get another sell-able organ —a prized kidney, to be exact— and things get really out of hand not only when Regina becomes more aggressively involved than she has any right to be, but when a dangerous prisoner being treated at the hospital (played by David Arquette) escapes, and an OD patient with a personal connection to Mandy becomes unknowingly embroiled as well.
Although mostly anchored by Bettis’ curmudgeonly character, it’s a one-note performance disadvantaged by slew a of secondary actors whose chops just aren’t on par with Bettis— and it shows. This wouldn’t be as much of an issue with a more captivating plot, and characters with a little more substance to them than delivering cheesy one-liners that fall flat. Regina’s character —though gifted with a charming performance by Farnworth— is given a 180-character development that just doesn’t make sense, and is supposed to be comical… maybe? And if you’re not being distracted by the middling attempts at comedy, you might fixate on the flat lighting that gives the entire thing an all-too noticeable feel of being on a sound stage. The only sense of cinematic atmosphere comes through when characters are bathed in the glow of night, or lingering under the occasional pink fluorescent lighting. The hospital itself is ensconced in shallow yellows, adding a noticeable cheapness that takes one out of the story all too easily.
The film has good bones— a tale about a corrupt nurse whose nightly organ trade-off goes off the rails could make for an exceedingly fun, nasty little bloodbath— but even when the story eventually takes its gruesome turn, it’s much too evident that hands and camera placement are attempting to cover up a lack of real gore effects. Bettis is more than capable to carry a film as the lead, though it does come off like she’s being held back, as the ill-tempered Mandy soon becomes irritable herself when it seems like exasperated is the only mood she’s able to portray. Nearly every character delivers dialogue like a human-adjacent, and then there’s the bizarre tonal shifts (two separate, brief singing and dance numbers), and the fact that a bigger name like David Arquette is in the film to simply stand around and look hot. There’s some great ideas and a good heart to keep 12 Hour Shift chugging along until the very end, but the 86-minute film ends up feeling like twelve hours itself.
12 Hour Shift was due to screen at Tribeca Film Festival but due to COVID-19, was postponed. The film was made available to attending critics via an online screening library.
by Brianna Zigler
Brianna is a graduate in Film-Video and Writing from Penn State University with big plans and not a lot of planning. She loves horror, absurdism, Twin Peaks, is a die-hard Wes Anderson fan, and currently has almost 250 movies in her watchlist. Her favorite films are What We Do in the Shadows, A Serious Man, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Swiss Army Man, and Suspiria. You can follow her on Twitter @briannazigs