The first sound you hear in 12 Hour Shift isn’t dialogue – instead, it’s a rousing chorus of voices, which almost sound like they’re screaming ‘help’. This certainly sets the tone for the next hour-and-a-half to come: a concept utterly gruesome on paper, that’s handled in such a way that the experience becomes thrilling, bouncy and, at times, laugh-out-loud funny.
Yes, 12 Hour Shift’s approach to horror is a very unique one, taking the grisly topic of organ trafficking and eliciting both chuckles and grimaces. It follows Mandy (Angela Bettis), a jaded night-nurse who earns money on the side by teaming up with other nurses at this Arkansas hospital to kill patients, steal their organs, and sell them to the black market.
Yet director Brea Grant, in her directorial debut, approaches it in a really charming way, and it’s hard to think of anything else that delves into such a seedy topic in such a nuanced way. Never getting bogged down by the ugliness of the subject matter, the script works in such a way that it’s hard not to root for Mandy and her colleagues on some deep level. It makes a subtle comment on how women are used as workhorses for male criminality, yet really delves into the underestimation of femininity. For every male character that remarks on how he’s there to protect these women, there’s two scenes that prove they really don’t need it: they know what they’re doing, and have absolutely no qualms in killing, dismembering and stealing to earn some extra cash.
And while the film can be at times unflinchingly gruesome – there’s bodily mutilation, injections to the eye and one of the most prominent rat-tails in cinematic history – it’s often very tonally playful. The chemistry between our leads is fantastic: Angela Bettis is the standout as Mandy, mixing snark, deception and humanity with such panache, and she bounces so well off Karen (Nikea Gamby-Turner), the hospital receptionist who leads the organ-smuggling ring, and her brambly cousin Regina (Chloe Farnworth), whose mad scramble for a spare kidney feels reminiscent of Howard Ratner’s struggle in Uncut Gems.
Which is perhaps a good touching point for viewers curious about 12 Hour Shift: it’s like the Safdie Brothers’ anxiety-riddled thriller, if you swap diamonds for organs, and early-noughties New York for late-nineties Arkansas. It’s anchored by a truly brilliant soundtrack, mixing bouncy cymbals with jazzy percussion that gives the film such a vivid personality, which combined with the sharp editing, crisp performances and careful handling of the concepts, is testament to a singular and glowing directorial vision from Brea Grant. It’s a horror-comedy unlike much else you will have seen, and even if you’re at times grossed out by the brutality, there’s no way you won’t catch yourself chuckling and smiling throughout.
12 Hour Shift is available to view as part of the Final Girls Berlin Film Festival on Saturday February 6th. You can purchase tickets here.