With her new film, 12 Hour Shift, writer-director Brea Grant is going for the sort of gory dark comedy that has become increasingly popular. The subgenre, perhaps born out of the 1970 cult hit The Honeymoon Killers, perhaps reached its apotheosis with the British horror comedy Sightseers in 2012. Grant reaches for but does not quite attain that level, as her script remains a bit too tethered to credulity, attempts too much plot and features too much humor predicated on silly regional stereotypes.

12 Hour Shift centers on Mandy (Angela Bettis), a drug-addicted nurse at a rural Arkansas hospital in 1999 who supplements her salary by participating in an illicit organ-smuggling operation. As the title suggests, the entire film takes place over a single night shift. Her dingbat cousin, Regina (Chloe Farnworth), works as a courier for this organic contraband, but being a dolt, loses the kidney she was supposed to transport from the hospital to the warehouse where the illegal surgeries are performed. Mandy, then, is short a harvested kidney, which serves as the film’s inciting incident.

From here, viewers follow Mandy on her rounds as a nurse, her confrontations with Regina and her interactions with her fellow nurses. The violence only escalates with the runtime, and the film racks up an appreciable body count by the time the credits roll. Some of these scenes and characters work really well: while there are too many idiot-blonde Southern women in contemporary screen culture, Farnworth’s Regina is just right as the impatient, petulant moron who is delusional enough to feel she is the intellectual equal of whoever is her current interlocutor. Sometimes, though, these narrative tangents and extra characters are just complications for the sake of complications, such as one of the hospital’s patients being Mandy’s half-brother. And some of the side characters are there solely for lazy joke-writing, such as the too-evangelical-to-participate-in-adult-society nurse Dorothy. And there is an entire subplot with a character played by David Arquette (who gets a producing credit) that has nothing to do with the rest of the film at all. With all this plot, 12 Hour Shift sometimes feels like the pilot for a TV procedural.

The main reason 12 Hour Shift fails to be everything that the best films in its subgenre are comes down to its worldbuilding. This is a film with a very specific sense of setting. Rural Arkansas in 1999 has no cell phones (always convenient to get rid of them in a thriller), has no internet to make it less provincial and is preparing for the potential catastrophe of Y2K. Ordinarily, this sort of specificity is good for a film, but here it is used to make good on a convenient deus ex machina or two. Grant works too hard to make her plot seem plausible. The police take so long to respond to the violence at the public hospital because they were out of town at a Y2K training event, for example.

These black comedy slashers work best when they throw credulity out the window and let its characters exist in a sort of suspended reality parallel to but separate from our world. 12 Hour Shift is caught between two quite different aesthetics: that of the ultra-realistic crime procedural (where everything is just like our world except for the homicide rate) and that of the gonzo cartoonish hyper-real slasher (think of the climactic scene of Inglorious Basterds). It suffers for its indecision, because its adherence to normal reality never lets the viewer escape into the sort of mental framework where the gory scenes are truly funny. Because the film wants to have some level of fidelity to the real world, too much of the plot hinges on characters being too dumb or too naïve to figure it out, which is probably why it is set in Arkansas, and that’s lazy worldbuilding.

12 Hour Shift does have quite a lot to say about being a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field, like organized crime, and it works best when its jokes hew more to social critique rather than too-easy Southern stereotypes.

Summary
Suffers from too much plot and too much humor predicated on silly regional stereotypes.
53 %
Overcooked horror comedy
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