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12 Hour Shift
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by Jay Seaver

"Doesn't feel a minute longer than an hour and a half."
3 stars

As good as Angela Bettis and Chloe Farnworth in "12 Hour Shift", I'm mildly surprised that writer/director Brea Grant didn't keep either role for herself; it wouldn't be her first time on both sides of the camera and it certainly feels like the sort of part a filmmaker writes for herself. It's a great showcase but it might be nice if there were a little more around it - in trying to create an overwhelming situation, Grant doesn't give any particular thing much chance to be particularly stressful.

Bettis plays Mandy, a nurse at an Arkansas hospital in 1999, mostly good at her job but on probation for previous screw-ups. She's working a double, and it looks to be fairly quiet: Mr. Collins (Ted Ferguson) is in for his dialysis, and he's the most active - there's a woman in a coma whose daughter needs reassurance, a death-row inmate (David Arquette) who has attempted suicide, and an anonymous overdose whom Mandy appears to recognize. Of course, there's also Regina (Chloe Farnworth), a cousin-by-marriage tasked with delivering the organs that Mandy and Karen at the front desk (Nike Gamby-Turner) arrange, and Regina isn't that bright; she leaves a bag containing a kidney on the loading dock and a goon (Mick Foley) has been sent to make sure she goes back to the hospital rather than just running.

Mandy isn't at the center of absolutely everything, but Grant is pretty stingy about following anyone but her or Regina, and at times that's pretty useful: By not giving the viewer the completely omniscient point of view, Grant does a nice job of putting the audience in Mandy's headspace, not really knowing everything that's going on but familiar enough with most of the pieces that the audience is never too far ahead. The downside is that it doesn't give her much chance to let all the things happening around Mandy amount to much; characters and their stories show up for a scene or two but feel fairly disposable, just there for more mayhem at the finale, but not because circumstances put them on a collision course in a way that's exciting.

If one figures that the point is to create an environment where Mandy fits - shunted out of sight with disreputable things just part of the background noise - then all that bouncing around does its job. Bettis inhabits Mandy like she moved in a generation ago, playing her like someone whose work is a huge part of what keeps her hostility at bay. Mandy is not a woman who outwardly struggles with her worse impulses, and by and large doesn't particularly like people, but Bettis doesn't need to underline and boldface it, and makes the moments when Mandy gets pushed out of her usual range more interesting, both when her anger gets the better of her and when she betrays guilt or affection. Chloe Farnworth's Regina maybe winds up on both ends of those reactions, and her performance is a smart complement to Bettis's restraint, a thick layer of friendly stupidity that occasionally gives way to some ruthless survival instincts without the two ever seeming in conflict. There are moments when Bettis seems to be playing straight man to Farnworth's clown, but Farnworth and Grant have a nifty ability to find the point where Regina's tendency toward chaos is right on the line between cute and monstrous without one quite cloaking the other.

There's a nice group around them that doesn't get all that much to do and could probably benefit from Grant maybe letting the larger world around Mandy and Regina step forward a bit: Nikea Gamby-Turner plays Karen as the closest thing Mandy has to a friend and confidante at work, pepping up every scene she's in even as she's carefully written as a work friend rather than someone who Mandy is genuinely close to. Kit Williamson makes what is arguably the film's most darkly comic scene work by playing it light - and truth be told, I was kind of hoping Grant would dig in more into how is shows that most people will convince themselves there's a reasonable explanation to even the most horrific sights; she seems to be onto something there, but there's too much going on. Even guys like David Arquette and Mick Foley, who are often cast to bring a little more personality to characters who aren't on screen that much, can't make their sections of the story feel important enough to really put pressure on Mandy and Regina.

They don't need to, exactly; Bettis and Farnworth are strong enough to carry the movie and Grant ties things together well enough that the film never feels sloppy. If anything, it's so focused on its greatest strengths that it seldom has time to explore the side stories that give this sort of movie a little bit more color.

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originally posted: 09/24/20 05:09:13
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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  DVD: 05-Jan-2021


  DVD: 05-Jan-2021

Directed by
  Brea Grant

Written by
  Brea Grant

  Angela Bettis
  Chloe Farnworth
  David Arquette
  Mick Foley

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