You ever smell sadness?
The Podunk nature to Brea Grant‘s latest film as writer/director, 12 Hour Shift, is integral to its success. Nothing works without it. We need the overt Catholicism of some of its characters. We need the imbecilic criminals operating way outside their intellectual depth despite having no emotional issues with taking another person’s life. And we need the sheer lack of worry that goes into blindly stealing organs from a hospital without even mentioning blood type or potential compatibility. If everything weren’t so outlandishly absurd, I’d have checked out the moment our junkie nurse protagonist (Angela Bettis‘ Mandy) told her manager/accomplice (Nikea Gamby-Turner‘s Karen) that she was switching their involuntary “donor’s” identity at the last second. But I don’t think their trafficker (Mick Foley‘s Nicholas) knows enough to care.
And if the characters don’t care, why should we? Embrace the craziness. Yell at the screen when we so obviously see Regina (Chloe Farnworth) leave the bag of organs she was hired to collect on the concrete while popping two ice cold cans of Spurt soda into the cooler first. Roll your eyes when Mandy—her supplier—walks over it without a second glance because she has the money in-hand and a double shift waiting to destroy her inside the hospital. Give Grant that leeway because the ensuing ride is entertaining enough to forgive these opening events that allow it to become one. That missing kidney is merely one reason of many for why these particular people find themselves trapped together on the eve of Y2K.
There’s also a comatose overdose patient Mandy seems to know named Andrew. There’s a dementia patient (Missy Stahr Threadgill‘s Mrs. Patrick), a man on dialysis (Ted Ferguson‘s Mr. Collins), and a just-arrived murderer transferred from the local prison after trying to commit suicide (David Arquette‘s Jefferson). So when Regina returns after being threatened by Nicholas for bringing him an empty cooler (with his right-hand man Mikey, as played by Dusty Warren, in tow) to beg her cousin-by-marriage to replace it quick, Mandy has numerous replacements to choose from. Time is of the essence, however. You can’t just off someone, cut them open, and not get caught. Well that’s what Mandy knows at least, being that she does do this professionally. Regina? Not so much.
A body inevitably drops. The cops follow shortly thereafter (Kit Williamson‘s Officer Myers). But this is a small town. Y2K has everyone on high alert and public services are short-staffed as a result. Add dealing with obnoxious wolf criers like Mr. Kent (Tom DeTrinis) complaining of dizziness despite a refusal to ever sit down and they’re spread even thinner. Myers prides himself on being a “nice guy” so he’s easy to lead astray. Derrick (Thomas Hobson) the EMT is lost in his Walkman (and prone to song and dance), so he’s not paying attention. The only person anyone has to worry about is head nurse Janet (Brooke Seguin), but she can be avoided with a little dumb luck. After body number two, though? Maybe. Number three? Absolutely not.
12 Hour Shift pumps along at breakneck speed with one tragedy after another. Even if someone like Myers finally has a light-bulb moment that something isn’t kosher, he’s pretty much on his own and forced to go check out the next fire while five others continue burning. Grant intentionally crafts this wild ride as a set of dominoes stood-up precariously on the edge of a table to do so. Where Regina is simply storming through with arms spread wide to take as many pieces out as possible due to a cocktail of survival instincts and sheer stupidity, Mandy is desperate to use a more surgical approach considering she’s the one who knocked the first down. Her odds of doing so unfortunately decrease with every passing second.
Inspired by memories of hospital bleach poisonings and bathtub organ harvesting stories on the news as a child, Grant seeks to bring those horrors together in one convoluted night of blunders with a woman at the center we can champion as an anti-hero worthy of escaping unscathed. Is Mandy a good person? Such things are relative. She is a murderer who picks and chooses victims based on their recovery chances and whether or not anyone will miss them enough to launch an investigation. But she’s also not going to leave someone she knows bleeding on the ground. So she thinks before she acts. She weighs her options and checks to see where her exits are. She’s an addict with horrible bedside manner, but she also saves lives.
Just because we won’t cry if she dies doesn’t mean we’ll cheer. To learn about Mandy’s past is to become unable to blindly dismiss her troubles or motivations regardless of the heinous acts she commits as a result. It’s a welcome bit of complexity that serves the whole nicely since it provides the three-dimensionality necessary to latch on and attempt to weather the storm alongside her. She therefore earns a level of respect and enjoyment from stumbling out of situations that would land her in jail or worse in any other town with a decent police department. To watch as she’s caught in the act and then helped by the person who should be handcuffing her is fun because we all aspire to such good fortune.
That’s more than enough to enjoy the journey while the supporting cast around her wittingly and unwittingly find themselves in dire circumstances, but it won’t quite lift the film out of one-note territory. I’m not so certain Grant minds, though. Her goal was to give us a woman in the type of amoral role usually reserved for men and see if she can survive the fallout of being trapped in Hell with a bunch of incompetents. She succeeds. I had a ton of laughs witnessing the carnage and pulling for Bettis even if the prize for victory is another shitty day that might conjure even worse ramifications. It’s a thrill ride of conveniences with real consequences—and that matters more than you might think. That futility proves its best feature.
 Angela Bettis in 12 HOUR SHIFT, a Magnet release. © Matt Glass. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.
 Chloe Farnworth in 12 HOUR SHIFT, a Magnet release. © Matt Glass. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.
 David Arquette in 12 HOUR SHIFT, a Magnet release. © Matt Glass. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.