Doing lines and saving lives is all in a day's work for Mandy (Angela Bettis, 'Sinister'), an Arkansas nurse whose drug habit appears to be the only thing keeping her from punching in the faces of her all-too spritely workmates. Given all the sick people and the harsh fluorescent hospital lighting that makes any shift feel like the middle of the night, it's not hard to see why Mandy hates her job - and why she supplements her income and drug addiction with an organ-dealing side hustle. It's undoubtedly a strange résumé for a horror film heroine, but Bettis and writer/director Brea Grant ('Best Friends Forever') sell it with all their might in their new film, '12 Hour Shift' - and it almost sticks the landing.
It's worth noting that Mandy attempts to navigate her shady backdoor business with boss Nicholas (wrestler Mick Foley) with somewhat of a moral compass, vowing only to take organs from patients who don't need them anymore. Despite the razor-sharp wits of both Mandy and her organ-harvesting sidekick and workmate Karen (Nikes Gamby-Turner, TV's 'Rosewood'), they come undone by Mandy's ditzy cousin Regina (Chloe Farnworth, 'Ava's Impossible Things'), a newbie to the organ-dealing profession whose misplaced to-be-donated kidney turns Mandy's work night into a bloody race to find a replacement before Nicholas comes to claim one of Regina's in its place. Yes, there will be blood.
I'm tipping every hat I own to Angela Bettis' lead performance. Mandy does not suffer fools, and rather than being scared shitless like other horror final girls, she treats the film's events as additions to her list of things she really can't be bothered with - perhaps because she knows they are partly her fault. It's unclear if her nerves of steel are a result of her drug use or if she was just born that way, but the henchmen Nicholas sends to retrieve the organ she owes them learn very quickly that Mandy is not one to be fucked with.
Since her roles in 'May' and the 2002 television adaptation of 'Carrie', Bettis has gained a reputation for her horror roles, and despite how unlikeable yet magnetic she makes Mandy, the film really belongs to Chloe Farnworth. Regina is a psychopath of the highest order because of just how unassuming and clueless Farnworth plays her, and the core of the film's horror stems not from the increasing bloodshed, but from Regina's pathological but hilarious self-preservation, taking matters into her own hands as she searches for an organ donor lest becoming one herself. Her attempts to keep her kidney are both desperate and hilarious, adding to Mandy's clean-up and pissing her off even more. Producer David Arquette also makes a brief appearance, showing again how much fun he can have in a small role after this year's similarly bloody black comedy 'Spree'.
'12 Hour Shift' is pleasantly led by a predominantly female cast but isn't overly in your face about this fact, and it's really refreshing to see a film that just so happens to be directed by a woman and starring women that isn't about an inherently female issue or struggle. The film also cleverly flips the notion of a woman as nurturer on its head; Mandy's job is to look after people (and unwittingly does so with Regina, however undeserved), but her self-serving nature turns her into something far more dangerous.
'12 Hour Shift' is exactly the horror comedy affair you'd expect from the kind of B-movie that begs to be seen at midnight.
Despite my praise, what really holds '12 Hour Shift' back from being an incredible experience is the very nature of the kind of film it wants to be. There's nothing wrong with being a B-horror movie that goes for the gory kills and leaves audiences with a couple of laughs in a 90-minute runtime, but in going directly for that status, '12 Hour Shift' feels like it is cutting corners to get there, not putting in the hard work with clever enough writing or a twist to ensure it will stay in the audience's conscious. It's light and small-scale by design, and despite some great lead performances, it doesn't attempt to make something more of itself. There's a memorable but unnecessary musical number in the second act, as well as a bouncy string score that threatens to envelop every scene it features in, but they just aren't enough to bust the film out of the corner it is forcing itself into.
It's also a real shame that the script is so light on character development, given the film's climax hinges on an emotional attachment Mandy has to another character. Considering how self-serving Mandy has been painted up to this point (especially when covering up Regina's mess is just selfishly saving her own ass) it's hard to buy into this moment, a toothless move in a film that proves multiple times it has enough bite when it wants to. At 86 minutes, '12 Hour Shift' could have fixed most of its problems with an extra 5 minutes of exposition without upsetting the overall pace.
'12 Hour Shift', while fun, is exactly the horror-comedy affair you'd expect from the kind of B-movie that begs to be seen at midnight, for better for worse. It expects its audience to come for the blood and the belly laughs, but doesn't dig anything deeper - it knows the audience will be too tired for that.