A supernatural/occult/psychological twist on John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, Last Shift is a methodically paced, pretty effective low-budget chiller that twists expectations in how fluidly it moves through a few different horror subgenres at a lean 90 minutes. Put aside the less-than-subtle B-movie leanings of its cover art (which really has nothing to do with the film proper anyway) and this is a cut above most video-on-demand releases as far as the horror genre is concerned. Nerve-rattling for most of its length, the film is on more solid ground when it’s suggesting what’s to come rather than the times it’s spent being screechy and explicit. Evil is evil, but isn’t it far creepier to hear about evil and being given hints of evil instead of seeing evil with a satanic sign carved onto its face?
For her first shift, rookie police officer Jessica Loren (Juliana Harkavy) is assigned to guard a closing police station and just wait until a Hazmat team arrives to clean up bio-hazard materials. She’s following in her late cop father’s footsteps, but it’s a bittersweet time as the station happens to be the murder scene where her father was killed at the hands of a Manson Family-esque cult. While her evening starts out a bit uneventful, she soon receives a distress call from a sobbing girl asking for help, even though all 9-11 calls have apparently been rerouted to the new police station up the road. As the night goes on, Jessica realizes all of the strange goings-on in the station could be linked to cult leader John Michael Paymon (Joshua Mikel), his suicidal followers and their victims. Will this be Jessica’s last shift of her life?
Relying on the blurred lined between reality and a living hell, Last Shift is taut storytelling propelled by a thick layer of well-built dread. Before one thinks the audience’s suspension of disbelief will be tested to the max—why doesn’t Jess just get out of dodge, right?—our female protagonist is too dedicated to leave her post and probably won’t mind proving her mom wrong since the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Writer-director Anthony DiBlasi (2011’s Cassadaga, 2013’s Missionary), who co-wrote the script with Scott Poileym, fortunately resists the urge to toss in cheap, nonsensical jump scares. No random cat pops out at Officer Loren but plenty of bloodied, often deformed-looking specters show their faces or pillow-cased faces.
The film certainly does not lack nightmarish imagery, sometimes reminiscent of the Silent Hill movies, and has more than its share of unnerving moments. The business with Jessica trapped inside a holding cell with a mysterious homeless man is expertly staged, director DiBlasi and cinematographer Austin F. Schmidt using long stretches of darkness to great creepy effect. Other memorable bits involve Jess hiding between the shelving rows in an evidence room, Jess entering a room with a half-circle of girls singing a hymn in front of a mirror, and a freaky hallway-set sequence with a corpse that reminds of A Nightmare on Elm Street without being imitative.
Juliana Harkavy (The Walking Dead) is an engaging heroine and anchors every scene as Jessica Loren, who probably should’ve picked a different line of work. Since she can be found in every scene and has to carry the entire film, it’s commendable that Harkavy develops Jessica into a sympathetic figure worth following; she’s tough but vulnerable enough that she recites her oath to serve justice to calm her nerves. When the film’s villains are revealed in full, director DiBlasi’s approach forgoes his earlier restraint for too many closeups of gnarly make-up effects. Less will always be more, and if DiBlasi had stayed on that track, his genre-hopping effort may have held even more power than so many blunt money shots. All things considered, though, Last Shift still sustains itself well as a single-location horror movie and decidedly doesn’t wimp out.
The Last Shift is available today, January 18th, on DVD and Digital via Matchbox Films.
In the US, Last Shift is available on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download via Magnet Releasing.