In recent years I’ve become a fan of smart, sharp black comedies that take dark subjects and thrive in the murky underbelly of living just outside of the system. Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers is a prime example of such goodness and now Brea Grant’s second feature as Writer/Director sees her styling out illegal organ arrangements with 12 Hour Shift, and it’s bloody brilliant.
“I guess we have multiple problems.”
12 Hour Shift follows junkie Nurse Mandy (Angela Bettis in the form of her life), who is funding her drug habit by selling the organs of dead patients to local criminals. Set in 1999, the opening conversation between Mandy and another nurse (coming off-shift) will give you all the insight you need for the style of things to come. In amongst the Arkansas twang is a witty, matter-of-fact comedy conversation where one person is living in the everyday and the other is off somewhere else.
Bettis’ Mandy is our focus throughout, and around her the story develops through the course of various circumstances, setups and discussions. This character building works superbly because it’s as if you’ve just stepped into the job alongside her and Mandy is peculiarly likeable, in a sense that she feels like someone you know, and while she might be doing bad things to make cash, she’s not actually doing it by hurting anybody because her patients are already dead. The moral spectrum is very much down to you, the viewer. However, her simple day-to-day world is thrown into the air after one of these deals goes wrong.
The usual arrangement is passing on trafficked organs through the back of the private hospital. To do this she bags up whatever’s required, hands it to the third party in exchange for cash and they deliver to the criminals. But on this occasion, new go-between Regina (Chloe Farnworth) forgets to take the organ and loses it by leaving it behind (without Mandy’s knowledge). Obviously, she then can’t deliver it and could be in mortal danger if she can’t supply it, so sets off on her own quest to hunt a replacement to pay off her debt. To add to the problem here, while street-smart, Regina isn’t the cleverest cookie in the box, and because she’s desperate, she fails to try and find a sensible plan and takes things into her own hands, literally… and ends up heading back to the hospital, dressing up as a Nurse and tries to source an organ through any possible means, including guesswork surgery.
12 Hour Shift is a beautiful setup of reasonably mad but solvable problems but, as you’d expect, once Regina starts hunting her own people issues escalate. Regina reminded me of a real-life Harley Quinn but with a lot less smarts, she’s possibly off-her-head on something but that’s never clear, but she’s trying to solve an issue with the least possible logic, or concern about outcome and – you know – it’s still very entertaining.
As with most of my reviews, I don’t like sharing spoilers and especially in a film like this where the fun elements unravel in front of you. Brea Grant also expertly directs, and it’s framed in that low-key indie sense, where the shots feel like proper photographs and the cleanliness of the private hospital perfectly balances out the dirty work going on in the background. We’re delving through all kinds of debauchery amongst the reality and once they throw in a soundtrack that offers an operatic remix edge, it impressively accompanies the bonkers visuals.
What makes 12 Hour Shift truly stand out is the pure, unadulterated excellence of Angela Bettis as Nurse Mandy. She’s the ultimate anti-hero that you’re backing, holding and equally controlled, chaotic, and stoic manner that keeps the balance in the middle of the chaos, even when she’s barely hanging on from hour-to-hour. It’s her deadpan delivery that not only focuses the bubbling tension of rapidly mad situations that captures and keeps you intrigued of what’s to come. There’s a specific stand-out scene with a cop who just believes she should be covered in blood when in the morgue, and because of her controlled demeanour, he actually helps her to get something done without question – and thinks he’s doing the right thing for her.
The character of Regina is another ace here, with a performance from Chloe Farnworth that excels in lunacy and sheer-single-minded determination. Although she doesn’t really know what she’s doing half-the-time, she’ll keep going to get the result, whatever that is. It’s brilliant, trust me. Also, Nurse Karen is played by Nikea Gamby-Turner, who’s the only person that knows what Mandy is doing and secretly takes a cut. She’s also terrific with another dark, funny performance who centres the trio that lead the way from start to finish. Other notable moments come from Brooke Seguin, the cult legend David Arquette in a co-starring role that’s nevertheless important and even a cameo for Wrestling legend Mick Foley.
Charmingly twisted, downright hypnotic and more than a glint of surreal brilliance. This much madness shouldn’t really be this enjoyable but with a superb female ensemble leading the way this isn’t just another 12 Hour Shift, it’s a whole bag of weird fun and I highly recommend it.