Sometimes, less is more. A writer can find themselves overloading a plot with far too many characters, too many subplots and convolutions and beginnings and endings and bloody hell Peter Jackson what the flip was up with the nine endings to the Lord of the Rings saga anyway?
Ahem. Yes, Less can be More. A simple plot with a minimum of characters, if written and presented effectively enough, can be entertaining and satisfying. Especially in horror, where the idea of a protagonist being alone facing something horrifying is a foundation of scares (although sometimes they can get very contrived in finding ways to remove cell phones from people so they can’t call for help – I’m looking at you, THE SAND). And if you’re in one location, you’ve already upped the claustrophobic elements. It also helps that a minimum of characters and setting can be easy on the production costs of your movie.
THE LAST SHIFT does this, and does it extremely well, given what they’ve got. It’s set entirely around one location, and features one protagonist, rookie cop Jessica Loren (Juliana Harkavy, from TV’s The Walking Dead). It’s her first night, and she has an unusual assignment, to say the least: to babysit a closed-down precinct (which for the purposes of nerdiness I shall dub Precinct 13) until her shift ends at 4am. She’s there rather than some security guard because apparently they still have some evidence bags sitting around in a room, and with all the emergency calls having been rerouted to the operating precincts, all she has to do is keep an eye on things and send any stray people to the nearest working precinct.
What could be simpler, right?
And it does start out simply: once her relief Sergeant Cohen (Hank Stone) departs for the night, she’s left reading her training manual and listening to the strange noises that all old, abandoned buildings seem to like to make at night (there’s something about buildings that were designed for many people, like schools and hospitals, that makes them doubly eerie when they’re empty).
Then the weirdness starts. She sees fleeting images from the corner of her eye. A vagrant appears and pisses on the floor. Her lunch turns maggoty. And calls start coming through to her phone line, where a girl is screaming for help, calls that the working precincts can’t seem to trace. Doors lock on her. The vagrant returns and begins trashing the place before she locks him up in a cell.
Gradually we pick up more clues about Officer Loren, and Precinct 13: her father was a cop, stationed there, and had been instrumental in tracking down and capturing the notorious John Michael Payman (Joshua Mikel, THE HARVESTING: CELL), who led a Manson-type family in kidnapping, torturing and killings girls. Payman and several of his captured acolytes had killed themselves in that very precinct, though not before they killed Loren’s father and several other cops.
Loren at first believes it to be all some elaborate hazing stunt being pulled on her (and though I hate the very concept of hazing, and that it would be particularly cruel to do this with Loren given her father died in the incident, I have to admit it would be an immensely cool stunt to pull), but as she begins to believe something is definitely happening, she must also fight her understandable terror (at more than point she ends up muttering her police officer’s oath like a prayer to give her strength to disobey orders and leave) to work out what’s happening.
Although I made an obvious connection to ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, the location of an abandoned police station is the only real link to THE LAST SHIFT, and really means nothing, because director Anthony DiBlasi (DREAD, CASSADEGA) and cinematographer Austin F. Schmidt give us a suspenseful, paranoid, well-paced movie, using both Old School techniques (shadows and noises) as well as more In Your Face scares (some of the spectres look and move as creepily as spiders across the floor). Harkavy presents a likeable, believable character, one you’d believe is a genuine rookie who isn’t an automatic badass but still tries to act professionally. There isn’t necessarily anything particularly original about what we see, but it’s very well put together, and kept me watching until the very end to find out how it does conclude, something a lot of movies I’ve tried watching this year have failed to do.
THE LAST SHIFT is available in numerous formats, and the trailer is below.
Director: Anthony DiBlasi
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Gore: 6 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Deggsy. Hoping he didn’t misspell the word ‘Shift’ anywhere…