The very definition of “midnight movie” includes transgression. “Bad taste?” Sometimes. “Out there?” Ditto. “Offensive?” Almost a given.
So there’s no sense in holding “12 Hour Shift” accountable for the misfortune of its timing.
A movie about a lethally corrupt nurse, post “Nurse Jackie,” might have seemed timely when it went into production in Arkansas back in the sunny days before the #WuhanDon pandemic. But with nurses across the country dying in the process of doing their heroic duty, many quitting the deadly jobs because of corporate callousness or governmental malfeasance?
Kind of seems “too soon,” or more precisely “too late” to get the reception it might warrant.
Actress turned director Brea Grant (TV’s “Eastsiders”) serves up a pungent, gory goof of a nurses-gone-bad comedy, dark as dirt and corrosive as Clorox. Veteran actress Angela Bettis, who was in that TV version of “Carrie” in 2002, is Mandy, remote, cynical and on probation in 1999 in the small city hospital where she is about to “work a double.”
She smokes. She stalks the halls with purpose, her quick-march set to a percussive “Whiplash” score, checks her watch constantly, and not because she’s taking anybody’s pulse. She’s quick to dismiss the hospital’s resident hypochondriac or tell off a colleague.
“You chipping in for flowers?”
This misanthrope’s bedside manner might include a smile we literally watch her paste on when she thinks it’ll work.
An elderly man on dialysis muses “Have you ever smelled sadness?”
“Only every damn day.”
Mandy’s got to watch herself, being on probation and all. And that’s tough, because there’s a side hustle she’s running in these healing hauls. Mandy harvests organs from the newly-dead, bags them up and sells them on the black market. The implication is, that Mandy sometimes “helps” them die.
But on this night, bringing her ditzy-blonde cousin-by-marriage (Chloe Farnworth) into the scheme blows up in her face. Someone she cares about has OD’d. And there are cops in the place because a convicted murderer, played with his usual gusto by David Arquette, tried to kill himself — probably before his eventual execution. Arkansas cannot have that.
A scrambling, bloody and comically horrific night ensues.
Writer-director Grant serves up acrid Southernese dialogue in an ice-cream scoop here, having the various “types” take their stereotypical moment to preach a sermon.
“I don’t like it when people call women ‘nuts.’ I’ts just an excuse to belittle their problems. Mental health is NOTHING to belittle!”
A colleague earns an eye roll because “She only reads the Bible — and those ‘Good News’ bulletins that folks leave on your porch when you don’t answer the door.”
What lets Grant down in the lack of urgency this eighty-eight minute nightmare. This story should sprint by, and the director takes her cue from her star. Bettis, while fascinating to watch, half-deadpans her way through this, which is fine. Mandy never gives away panic. Also fine.
But when the crap starts hitting the fan, when dire legal or deathly consequences face her, maybe this drug-snorting “angel of mercy” should feel a need to get a move on. She never does.
A movie that saunters through heartless murders, organ removal by nitwit, mob threats (Mick Foley is the main heavy), bystanders killed or badly hurt, family members freaking out and the last patient you’d expect fighting back is a movie that has pacing problems.
If this “12 Hour Shift” sprinted by, we could forget how nasty it is to nurses, at least while watching it.
MPAA Rating: unrated, graphic violence, drug abuse, profanity.
Cast: Angela Bettis, Chloe Farnworth, Nikea Gamby-Turner, Mick Foley and David Argquette.
Credits: Written and directed by Brea Grant. A Magnet/Magnolia release.
Running time: 1:28