12 Hour Shift was originally set to premiere at the 2020 Tribeca FIlm Festival.
Nursing is a high-stress, low-pay and often thankless profession, one of which we should be doubly appreciative in these difficult times. Their dedication to patients is something we should constantly be lauding, except for maybe the nurses at the center of Brea Grant’s sophomore feature, 12 Hour Shift, a trashy comedic thriller that boasts an entertainingly despicable cast of characters and a dark, twisted tale of addiction and organ trafficking during the Y2K crisis.
Taking place in a depressing Arkansas hospital near the turn of the 21st century, Angela Bettis plays Mandy, a worn-down nurse clocking in for a double shift. In order to support her drug addiction, she and another nurse harvest the organs from dying patients for cash, but after her cousin (by marriage) bungles the latest transaction, it sets in motion a series of events that she won’t soon forget.
Bettis shines as Mandy, delivering her best performance since her breakout in Lucky McKee’s May. Despite her flagrant negligence in nearly every avenue in which a nurse could be considered negligent, there’s a constant glimmer of caring underneath her character’s hard exterior. Mandy, along with nearly every other character in this film, is not inherently sympathetic, but her no-nonsense attitude and occasional warmth allow us to root for her anyway.
Her cousin, Regina (Chloe Farnworth), on the other hand, is so comically inept at everything she does, it frequently causes the film to shed its mostly grounded veneer and tread into an over-the-top farce, something that thankfully works more than it doesn’t. It’s a tough pill to swallow to believe that she could have somehow missed putting a harvested kidney into a cooler and not realize it, though, the one thing that sets the entire narrative in motion.
Grant’s directing has matured considerably in the seven years since her feature debut, and the same of which can be said for her writing. The script for 12 Hour Shift, which she also penned, is snappy and fun, with just the right amount of sarcasm and dark comedy as to not push it too far into just one genre.
The decision to set the film in 1998 is a bit odd, considering the time period doesn’t add much to the overall story, aside from a random news brief about Y2K and some dated-looking clothing choices. Perhaps it was utilized to account for a slight downgrade in the technology on display, but the era certainly takes a back seat to the rest of the storytelling.
In addition, there’s an oddly placed subplot involving a murderer, played by David Arquette, being brought into the hospital. While this presents the opportunity to make things even more complicated for Mandy, there’s not much going on with this thread until the final act, which doesn’t amount to much and seems to only exist as a tool to wrap things up more cleanly.
Still, Grant shows she’s as strong of a creative mind behind the camera as she is in front of it. With its frantic plot, well developed characters and clever stylistic choices (including a surprisingly effective musical number),12 Hour Shift brings enough to the table to warrant a recommendation from me.