Mandy (Angela Bettis) is a jaded nurse working in an Arkansas hospital with some particularly warped dealings going on behind the scenes. She’s addicted to drugs and steals them from unsuspecting patients. She’s also involved in a scheme where she sells the innards of terminally ill patients to a gang of organ traffickers.
Mandy’s assisted by her acid-tongued coworker Karen (Nikea Gamby-Turner) and her own monstrously braindead cousin, Regina (Chloe Farnworth), but Mandy is responsible for actually retrieving the organs — sometimes using bleach to facilitate the process.
When Regina blunders a kidney delivery, only hours remain until the gang of not-so-friendly organ traffickers, led by Nicholas (Mick Foley), takes Regina’s kidney as a replacement, unless she or Mandy can acquire another one in the meantime. Chaos ensues, the cops arrive, and the bodies start to pile up. Good grief, how messed up can this film get?
Quite messed up, quite messed up indeed. If viewers accept this ridiculous premise, 12 Hour Shift is a delight from start to finish. Emotional storytelling and three-dimensional characterization be damned, Grant’s film is among the most enjoyable I’ve seen all year.
Much of the thrill of 12 Hour Shift comes from watching one awful decision spiral into another, each one upping the ante from the previous.
It’s a joy to watch these characters flail through the proceedings and create a series of escalating “holy [shift]” moments, both through their ill-advised actions and their darkly witty dialogue. Like a short but sweet rollercoaster ride of blood, guts, and acerbic dialogue, the film implores viewers to strap in and let the absurdity wash over them without dwelling on the details.
Mandy is exasperated, sharp-tongued, and prone to impulsivity, and her efforts to get hold of the situation are undermined by those around her — through pure incompetence or malevolent intent, sometimes both, but only a smidgen of actual intelligence. Who cares about realism and characters acting like actual human beings, after all, when the film is so much fun to watch? Bettis gives it her all and lends Mandy a bit of humanity, but the real star of the show is Farnworth’s portrayal of Regina.
Regina is a frightening creation whose lack of intelligence belies a complete and utter disregard for the consequences of her actions, no matter who gets hurt along the way. Cold blooded murder isn’t beneath her, and neither is organ farming, as long as she gets what she wants. Farnworth plays the role with glee, and I couldn’t wait to see what outlandish decision Regina would make next.
Propelled by B-movie carnage, snap-crackle-pop dialogue, and cinematography that becomes more stylish as the film progresses, 12 Hour Shift rarely drags in terms of pacing. Grant provides the bare minimum of backstory necessary to keep the blood flowing and the panic level high.
Of course, the film won’t be to everyone’s taste, especially those looking for meaningful social commentary. Misogyny rears its ugly head from time to time, and Grant’s decidedly negative portrayal of nurses feels quite distasteful amid the COVID-19 pandemic. There was potential to expand upon this story to comment on America’s healthcare system, but the film brute forces these issues to the wayside until the very end.
Additionally, the women-led nature of the film is commendable, but nobody is traditionally heroic, or easy to care about. The hospital staff are all overworked and fed up, but why exactly are Mandy and company involved in organ trafficking in the first place? How haven’t they been caught yet? The film’s tactlessness is just another way it shamelessly breaches the limits of good taste, and that’s actually sort of admirable, but still questionable.
12 Hour Shift should satiate the appetites of viewers looking for an unabashedly bonkers dark comedy that embraces the craziness of its plot.
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Led by cartoonish characters and macabre sensibilities, 12 Hour Shift is bloody satisfying.
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