Tuesday, October 18, 2016

30 Days of Nightmares #18: LAST SHIFT (2014)

The Story: A rookie cop pulls night watch duty on the final night that an old, abandoned precinct will be open to the public.  And then she finds out why it’s closing.

Expectations: A Satanic ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13.  Netflix viewers give it high marks.  I remember being fairly impressed with the filmmaker’s previous film, DREAD.  So why not?  It's streaming. 

Reaction: I knew nothing about this film going in.  I’m starting to think that’s the only appropriate way to watch horror movies.  In fact, I’m starting to wonder if I should be writing these reviews.  Am I ruining these films for first-time viewers?  Do I care?  Nope, I can't help myself.

The strength of the first twenty or thirty minutes of this film came from my wondering what it was going to be about.  What was going to ruin this rookie’s night?  What horror subgenre was being represented here?  Writer/director/editor Anthony DiBlasi plays his cards close to the chest for a while, and he knows how to set up a jump scare, so I was fully engaged.

In my opinion, the film started to falter with a particularly clunky exposition scene: The local donut shop wench just happens to be smoking a cigarette outside the station, and casually divulges the terrible backstory of the police station.  After that, the film becomes a frantic gauntlet run—an assault on the viewer’s senses and on story sense in general. At times, I felt like I was watching a “best of modern horror gimmicks” compilation.  That said, I must admit that most of the jump scares were still pretty effective.  And there are a hell of a lot of them.

I tend to think that supernatural horror movies fall into two camps.  There are those that slowly chip away at our rational skepticism about the supernatural (the 1963 version of THE HAUNTING is the classic example) and there are those that bludgeon us to death with supernatural spectacle (the 1999 version of THE HAUNTING serves as an obvious counterpoint).  I prefer the former, because they have a longer-lasting effect on me--but I recognize that I might be in the minority.  I know some viewers will love the assaultive nature of this film... and who am I to judge?  LAST SHIFT has its strengths--including some effectively nasty Barker-esque imagery, and a lead actress (Juliana Harkavy) who manages to emotionally ground the film in spite of being hit with so many shocks and twists that she couldn't possibly convey any more gradations of fear. 

Having said all that, I think I will have completely forgotten this movie by next Halloween.  It's full of well-executed in-the-moment thrills, but not the type to stay with me for days or weeks (or even hours, really) afterward.  Maybe that’s why I’m writing these reviews….

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: The biggest surprise for me was the revelation involving “Officer Price.”  I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t.   Touché, DiBlasi.

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