12 Hour Shift: Scrubby, by David Bax
Before seeking out any other praise or criticism of Brea Grant’s 12 Hour Shift, the first thing you should know is that it stars Angela Bettis and therefore is, on some level, automatically worth watching. Since playing the title role in the art-horror cult classic May nearly twenty years ago, she has established herself as a captivating actor with a singularly jittery presence. In this case, she mostly succeeds in at least holding the movie together, if not overcoming the deficiencies in its screenplay and construction.
Set in the late 1990s for no apparent reason other than to give a security guard a tacky, Steve Harwell-style peroxide hairdo, 12 Hour Shift takes place over the course of one night at an Arkansas hospital. Mandy (Bettis), a nurse and drug addict, has gotten herself involved in an organ trafficking ring. But when the driver, Regina (Chloe Farnworth), botches a liver delivery, chaos breaks out as new, nonconsenting donors are sought and the traffickers start to show up looking for blood in any way they can draw it.
With sometimes shockingly graphic violence and a tale of universally dumb criminals, Grant appears to be aiming for the post-Coen vibes of films like Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin or Macon Blair’s I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore. Unfortunately, it’s closer to the latter than the former with its thin characterizations. Grant, as the sole screenwriter, appears to have designed her story from the brutally wacky set-pieces outward.
As a filmmaker, Grant is working from a mixed bag. The cinematography is distinctive, juxtaposing the atmospheric, sodium lamp glow of the night outside with the flat, florescent sheen of the hospital interiors, which gives Mandy and her coworkers a pallid look that only enhances their existential malaise. And the synthy, chorally, orchestral score, while a bit arch, is striking (though the less said about the movie’s embarrassing and abortive musical number, the better). On the other hand, tighter editing would have helped the film’s sudden punches of violence.
Despite that shagginess, 12 Hour Shift is still most successful in those broader strokes of macabre humor. The mounting list of deaths and maimings becomes too ludicrous to keep count of and there’s undeniable pleasure in watching the chaos and mayhem keep piling up unabated.
It’s in the drier attempts at dark comedy that the film reveals itself as facile. Though it is admittedly clever that the staff routinely use the hospital’s chapel as a place to discuss criminal activities, too many of the would-be laughs stem from the stable of cynically contrived, hateful characters on display. 12 Hour Shift mistakes a lack of humanity for a comedic point of view.