The “naughty nurse” concept gets a refreshing and wild twist in 12 Hour Shift, a dark comedy about drug addiction, black market organs, murder, and mayhem. This Southern-fried indie was one of our favorite films of out Fantasia 2020. Now, it’s coming soon to a theater/VOD near you.
Written and directed by Brea Grant, 12 Hour Shift follows a beleaguered nurse through the overnight shift from hell. May’s Angela Bettis stars as Mandy, the first half of our naughty nurse re-invention. When she’s not changing soiled bedsheets, calming the fears of frazzled visitors, and caring for her patients, she’s eying her next target. See, Mandy is a nurse who kills and then—through a complicated underground network she doesn’t fully understand—she passes off the victim’s organs to a surly crimeboss (retired professional wrestler Mick Foley). However, this supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and her name is Regina (Chloe Farnworth).
Mandy and Regina are cousins, and in no other way remotely related. Where Mandy is brooding, Regina is bubbly. Where Mandy is cagey, Regina is a chatterbox. Where Mandy is strategic, Regina is outrageously impulsive. So, when Regina loses track of one high-priced kidney, her solution is to throw on some scrubs and swagger into find a new one. Like oversexed bimbos of ’70s nurse-spoiltation, Regina relies on her her femine wiles to get her way when her wits fail her. And when that fails, there’s always her knife.
Grant’s film is not some spoof of exploitation, but instead a sophisticated genre mash-up, blending nurse tropes with gory horror, biting comedy, and an irreverent musical number for good measure. She grounds her story with Mandy, whose world-weariness is profound and relatable. She and her boss Karen (Nikea Gamby-Turner) are the side-eying straight man of this comedy, around which all other characters spin to sitcom-level theatrics. Their smiles are unsettlingly bright. Their efforts at small chat are achingly earnest. So every time Mandy and Karen exchange a glance, we know they feel the joke is on them for being inundated by fools.
Grant also gooses dark laughs out of gore and surprise attacks. However, the film leans heavily into suspense in its second half. The sour yellows that cake the hospital setting splash to Nicolas Winding Refn red, emanating with the threat of violence, bleakness, and blood. Then in strides a brawny David Arquette, a figure of menace seemingly meant to slay forever his niche-casting as Scream’s dopey deputy Dewey. It’s powerful. And hot.
Remarkably, Grant is able to sharply pivot from one tone to another without losing the flow. A soulful song can be intercut with spurts of blood being splashed, a pillow fight can give way to gunfire, and with every step, we are riveted and ready for more. Her cast deserves credit for nimbly balancing macabre content with pitch-black punchlines.
Bettis carries the world on her slumped shoulders, presenting Mandy as a woman who has been knocked down so many times she knows nothing but having to get back up. Yet with a sly smile and the occasional tremble in her eye, she brings out a fire that refuses to be squelched. Farnworth is her willing fool, mugging and prat-falling with the manic radiance of Lucille Ball. To this, Gamby-Turner brings a powerful maternal vibe with a wry delivery that never fails to slay, while Arquette adds a dash of menace and dark allure.
All of this blends to make a movie that is deliciously deranged, unpredictable, and fun. The swerves in tone, dashes of genre, and wilful lunacy of it all throws audiences into the thrilling yet dizzying sensation of staying up, way, way too late. The real world turns slippery and surreal, and you wonder when it’s going to let up. In this way, Grant puts us in the shoes of her harried heroine, while delivering a midnight movie that pulls no punches.
Now on Hulu, 12 Hour Shift was originally reviewed when it opened in theaters and on-demand October 2.
Header Image Source: Magnet