Monday, June 5, 2017

First Day Is Always the Hardest...Right?

Lately I've been having a little trouble remembering details when it comes to movie recommends. I'm fairly certain SOMEONE I know recommended Last Shift to me, unless that was actually Late Phases or some other movie streaming on Netflix with a two-word title in which the first words started with the letter "L." 

Whoever that was, if you do exist, thanks. 

Quick Plot: Jessica Loren (Juliana Harkavy)begins her first day as a police officer with an overnight shift at a soon-to-be-closed station. Her mission is simple: stay on the premises until a hazmat crew arrives to remove the various needles, pipes, and other drug paraphernalia sitting in a locked evidence room. As of tomorrow, the police will be relocated to a new facility. In the meantime, all distress calls are being rerouted to another precinct. 

Of course they are.

Before Jessica can taste her first donut, things start getting...weird.

Or maybe just whatever the adjective would be for "horror movie."

There's a silent, bearded homeless man who seems to magically appear at will, only to less magically and far more grossly urinate on the floor. The lights keep going out and worst of all, a phone call keeps coming in from a young woman who claims to be held captive on a ranch. This wouldn't be so bad if, one year earlier, Jessica's veteran cop dad hadn't been involved in breaking up a homicidal Manson-family-esque cult who murdered young women on a nearby farm.

Directed by Most Likely to Die's Anthony DiBlasi, Last Shift isn't a mold breaker in terms of its construction or concept, but you know what? It's pretty darn good. Harkavy is essentially onscreen for the entire runtime, and she makes for a relatable protagonist that's easy to root for. DiBlasi and cowriter Scott Poiley's script wisely doesn't try to do too much, keeping the story tightly centered on Loren as she slowly uncovers (both for herself and the audience) the details surrounding the massacre at the Paymon homestead.

DiBlasi has a lot of sick fun setting up his scares while also keeping the situation grounded enough that it's easy for us to believe the a rookie cop wouldn't run out the doors screaming at the first maybe view of pentagram painted plastic bag wearing ghosts flashing by a darkened cell. While her father's backstory is slowly dished out, it's clear that Jessica cares about being a cop and has plenty of reason to see this night out.

The night does not make it easy.

Last Shift isn't a perfect horror film, but it's scary, interesting, and perhaps most importantly, leaves you wanting more. I could have taken another half hour learning about the Paymon backstory, and I wouldn't be surprised if the screenwriters had another fifty pages of unused material. Even the one-scene presence of a weary hooker with a tell-tale bruise leaves you seeing the world of Last Shift as an unsettled place with open-ended horror from every angle. It's incredibly refreshing in its well-defined nihilism. 

Now if you'll excuse me, I think I need to look at some adorably innocent unlikely animal friends for a while. 

High Points
As anyone who knows of my adoration for The Exorcist III is aware, I love a film that puts some care in establishing imagery through its dialog, and Last Shift is especially smart in this respect. The most impactful example for me came during one of Paymon's followers rambled on about the details of her killing, specifically describing what her victim looked like after she beat her teeth into her head with a baseball bat. Sure enough, we later see such a ghostly figure, and our minds easily make the connection. 

Low Points
Maybe I'm getting soft in my old age/state of the country being what it is, but I was really hoping for a different kind of finale

Lessons Learned
Rural-based satanists take excellent care in grooming their eyebrows

Dead people are pretty messy

When in doubt, listen to your mother

Last Shift is streaming on Netflix Instant, and while it isn't necessarily the scariest indie you've ever seen, it's certainly in the upper tier of recent ones. The film is probably best watched in one (fairly brief) sitting to make its jump scares work best. Give it a go.


  1. I also enjoyed this way more than I thought I was going to. The plastic bag women had a pretty iconic vibe to them, and I liked the idea that the haunting was deliberately about our main character, not just some random ghosts haunting the precinct. It gave us a good mystery to have to chew on. The friendly cop that she meets is a great little twist that actually surprised me. I didn't see that coming, although the reveal was a total rip-off of The Sixth Sense.

    1. Yeah, it wasn't THE most original in all of its parts, but it was fresh and it worked on me. Looking forward to seeing more of this director's work.