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Neo-noir ‘12 Hour Shift’ is a fun, unsavory ride

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 21, 2021

Angela Bettis is a nurse named Mandy in "12 Hour Shift."  (Courtesy)
Angela Bettis is a nurse named Mandy in "12 Hour Shift." (Courtesy)

“12 Hour Shift,” directed by Brea Grant, brings us a world populated by mundane, shoot-the-breeze small talk floating on the surface of a sourly sinister plot. We find Mandy (Angela Bettis) sitting on the curb outside a hospital smoking a cigarette in preparation for her double as a night nurse. Her chatty co-worker comments on Mandy’s thin physique, telling Mandy that her mama always advised her to not trust skinny women because when the rest of us are busy eating, they are busy scheming. She has no idea how close she is to the truth.

The look of exhaustion on Mandy’s face gives her an unassuming appearance, which comes in handy to conceal her shady side hustle in the black-market organ trade. Snorting pills helps take the edge off, too, not only for tending to blubbering and grumpy patients but also for dealing with her bemused cousin-by-marriage Regina (Chloe Farnworth).

Mandy meets Regina behind the basement soda machines and hands her a bag of organs worth thousands of dollars. Regina gets so distracted by elaborating on her clever process of purchasing a soda to keep the organs cool, which she gets to pop open at the end of her delivery as a rewarding treat, that she forgets them in the hospital’s basement altogether. She doesn’t realize her error until she meets up with the buyers, a group of testy and threatening bikers.

Regina returns to the hospital to discover that the organs are nowhere to be found. She asks Mandy to round up an extra kidney. That won’t fly. Mandy has a system, a system that doesn’t involve her doing the dirty work of harvesting organs. Regina takes matters into her own hands, stealing a pair of scrubs to go get her hands dirty herself. Her reckless behavior unleashes attention-grabbing chaos in the hospital, and Mandy is left to clean up the mess.

The night nurse has been a classic thriller and noir character since Barbara Stanwyck portrayed one in the 1931 pre-code noir predecessor “Night Nurse.” Of course, in the neo-noir version, Mandy is not the one trying to save people from murder but is involved in the plot herself. It is the perfect evolution of the character, harnessing the apathetic cynicism and “I’ll get mine” attitude of the post-modern era.

The cast is sprinkled with delightfully seedy characters such as Mandy’s calm and collected co-conspirator on the front desk, Nikea Gamby-Turner, and the crazed murderer who is wheeled in handcuffed to the bed, played by David Arquette. Ever since the release of films like the Coen Brothers’ “Fargo” in 1996, it has been popular in neo-noir to fill the world with charming, quirky characters that audiences love to see meet their demise throughout the events of the story.

“12 Hour Shift” taps into that type of story-building well. We get to learn more about each character who happens to be hanging around the hospital on this particularly fateful night shift and enjoy the dark humor and complications each one brings the story.

Although Mandy’s crotchety demeanor makes her seem obstinate, she is thrust forward in the story by events that are largely out of her control, which gives her somewhat of a passive role in the plot as she scrambles to smooth over things. Bettis plays this excellently, balancing the character’s drug-induced, monotone indifference with cutthroat impulses for self-preservation.

The film uses a grim color palette to convey the sickly world these characters live in, with cold, fluorescent blues and green-beige tones. The largely handheld camera work keeps it simple and naturalistic, saving the more stylized shots typical of the genre for the film’s last act.

The score taps into a great sense of irony and misanthropy, which further sets the tone for the dark humor written into the film and lets the audience know it is more than OK to laugh at and enjoy the disheveled and unsavory circumstances of the story.

“12 Hour Shift” is a fun ride for those who enjoy watching despicable characters and the desperate measures they’re willing to go through to line their pockets with a few extra bills. The story is kept minimal in that it mostly plays like a chamber piece, sticking to the hospital as the grounds where the story unfolds, but it packs a lot of entertaining turmoil into its 86-minute run time and pays off the audience’s patience with increasing amounts of gore. If you want to see where a soul-crushing night shift meets a gritty side-hustle gone wrong, check out “12 Hour Shift” on Blu-Ray, DVD or on demand.

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