September 28, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Brea Grant
Culture Representation: Taking place in Jonesboro, Arkansas, in 1999, the horror comedy “12 Hour Shift” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: A drug-addicted hospital nurse, who illegally sells organs to make extra money, has crazy and horrible experiences during a 12-hour shift.
Culture Audience: “12 Hour Shift” will appeal primarily to people who like horror served up with a lot of dark and absurdist comedy.
What do you get when you cross a drug-addicted nurse with a cop killer, some thugs, a stolen kidney and wacky patients during a very long work day that stretches into the night? You get “12 Hour Shift,” an apologetically bloody and bawdy horror comedy that is not for people who are easily nauseated or for people who want a serious horror film. Written and directed by Brea Grant, “12 Hour Shift” is as rough around the edges as the story’s main character, but if you’re up for the bumpy ride, be prepared for an offbeat look at the type of hospital that could be a patient’s worst nightmare.
In “12 Hour Shift,” which takes place in 1999, the action centers around Mandy (played by Angela Bettis), a hospital nurse in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Mandy has a prickly personality and a serious addiction to prescription drugs. She’s the kind of addict who doesn’t hesitate to steal prescription medication from a patient who’s unconscious.
At the beginning of the story, Mandy is seen smoking in a parking lot before she begins what will turn out to be the 12-hour shift from hell. It’s clear from her interactions with a co-worker in the parking lot that Mandy isn’t concerned about being a well-liked employee. When she goes inside the hospital, she snorts chopped-up pills in a storage room before she begins a double shift.
Mandy doesn’t just make money from the salary she gets from the hospital. To make extra money (presumably to support her drug habit), Mandy has been involved in some illegal transactions: She’s been selling the organs of dead patients who are in the hospital’s mortuary.
The hospital is understaffed, so viewers have to assume that Mandy has the time and the ability to remove people’s organs without anyone else noticing. Viewers will have to ignore a huge plot hole that’s not explained in the movie: What about the bodies that have to go to a medical examiner to determine the cause of death? That would expose a pattern of organs going missing from bodies at the hospital, which would trigger an investigation.
At any rate, “12 Hour Shift” is a dark comedy that’s not entirely rooted in realism. If people know before seeing this movie that the story takes some situations to extreme and absurd levels, they will enjoy the movie better. People who want a more straightforward, conventional horror movie should look elsewhere
During this particular 12-hour work shift, Mandy is doing her usual routine of handing off the bags of stolen organs (which include intestines and a kidney) in a small cooler container that she leaves near the hospital’s back entrance. Her accomplice is ditzy Regina (played by Chloe Farnworth), who is Mandy’s cousin by marriage. Regina gives Mandy the payment in cash, and Mandy goes back into the hospital.
However, Regina makes a big mistake when she takes the cooler with her but accidentally leaves behind a bag of organs at the back entrance. When Regina meets with a low-life thug named Nicholas (played by Mick Foley), she notices that a bag is missing. Nicholas is incensed because in that bag is a kidney that he needs right now.
When Regina frantically returns to the hospital’s back entrance, the bag that she left behind is gone. Regina goes to Mandy to tell her the bad news about the missing kidney. Mandy is furious, of course, because she knows that she could be in a lot of trouble since she was already paid for the kidney and she doesn’t want to give any of the money back. And so begins the zany quest for Mandy and Regina to find another kidney before Nicholas and his fellow thugs come looking for them to do who knows what if they don’t get a kidney for him.
There’s someone else who’s in on the organ sales schemes: Mandy’s no-nonsense co-worker Karen (played by Nikea Gamby-Turner), who gets her share of whatever cash that Mandy gets for the sales. Karen usually acts as the lookout while Mandy does the dirty work of removing the organs. And now that there’s a race against time to find another kidney, things are going to get pretty desperate.
But wouldn’t you know, this is the one shift where Mandy has to deal with some other intense situations, since she works in the emergency-room ward. A drug-overdose patient comes into the hospital. His name is Andrew (played by Aaron Preusch), and Mandy has a past with him that she’d like to forget.
An admitted cop killer named Jefferson (played by David Arquette) is brought to the hospital under police custody, and he becomes a pest because he tries to make moves on the hospital’s female staffers. Jefferson says, “I murdered a cop. I hate cops, but I love blondes.” Meanwhile, clueless Regina is enlisted to help find a dying patient from whom Mandy could steal a kidney. And it should come as no surprise that Regina (who shows up in a hospital uniform and high heels) makes a disastrous decision.
Meanwhile, there’s a running gag of a hypochondriac named Mr. Kent (played by Tom DeTrinis) who keeps showing up at the hospital to insist that he get a room, even though there’s nothing physically wrong with him. There’s an emergency medical technician named Derrick (played by Thomas Hobson), who might or might not be able to help Mandy. And there’s a weepy nurse at the hospital named Dorothy (played by Tara Peary), who asks, “Is there any more cake?,” as if her her day would be ruined if there’s no more cake in the employee break room.
The violence in the movie can get very gruesome, but some of it is so over-the-top, it’s not meant to be taken seriously. Arquette (who is one of the film’s producers) seems to know that his goofy public persona doesn’t make him entirely convincing when he’s supposed to play a dangerous criminal, so he hams it up quite a bit in this movie. Farnworth’s Regina is playing a stereotypical airhead, so there really isn’t supposed to be much depth to this role.
It’s Bettis’ portrayal as the hard-nosed Mandy that’s the performance to watch. Mandy might be facing a lot of trouble for her illegal antics, and some dangerous thugs might come after her, but Mandy’s got this tough “I don’t care/Just give me my money and drugs” demeanor that indicates she not to be messed with easily. There’s really no deep message in the mayhem and chaos that ensue in “12 Hour Shift.” In its darkly comedic way, the movie will make you think twice about what could happen if you’re unconscious in a hospital and a drug-addicted nurse wants to steal your medication or maybe one of your organs.
Magnolia Pictures’ Magnet Releasing will release “12 Hour Shift” in select U.S. theaters and on VOD on October 2, 2020.