A Simple Job: "12 Hour Shift" pure dark fun with more personality than resources

12 Hour Shift (2020)

Actor Brea Grant’s second feature “12 Hour Shift” is a pip of a lung-black comedy of errors with grindhouse stylings and a ripped-from-the-headlines pull. The type of low-level crime caper gone wrong that the Coen Brothers can pull off in their sleep is written into its DNA, but writer-director Grant has her own gallows-humored sensibilities and scrappy enthusiasm to bring to this entertainingly grimy dark comedy-thriller. Oddly compelling and scuzzily watchable, “12 Hour Shift” is a pure genre flick made with grit, spit, and an organ or two.

Back to her blood-spattered, body-handling days in Lucky McKee’s “May,” Angela Bettis plays the heavy-eyed, all-out-of-fucks-to-give Mandy, a junkie nurse who’s on internal probation. As a side hustle, she harvests organs on the black market from the Arkansas hospital where she works, circa pre-Y2K 1999. The night she works a double, Mandy passes the bloodied goods along to blonde airhead Regina (Chloe Farnworth), her cousin by marriage. When their swap at a soda machine by the hospital loading dock goes wrong—Regina somehow takes an empty cooler with a few sodas as ice packs without the kidney inside and goes back to find that the kidney has gone missing—they will have to find another donor, even without their permission. Mandy might have to do everything herself, and clean up her inept cousin’s mess, or the botched scam puts their own organs on the line.

“12 Hour Shift” would be a classic screwball comedy if it weren’t for the string of dead bodies needlessly piling up (and a more-than-welcome solo dance sequence with a paramedic). Like a gruesome runaway train, nothing seems to ever go right for Mandy and in-cahoots nurse Karen (Nikea Gamby-Turner) once Regina comes waltzing into the hospital, pretending to be a nurse none too well in either her platform boots or her stocking feet. A number of other obstacles also stand in their way, like one of the hospital rooms containing a suicidal psychopath (an underused but flawlessly sleazy David Arquette), who’s bound to escape out of his handcuffs; a dimwitted policeman (Kit Williamson); a goon coming to collect Regina; and one of the new patients being Mandy’s comatose addict stepbrother. "What kind of hospital is this?" a patient's daughter asks in disbelief, and you can't blame her.

Angela Bettis puts on her best irritable, “don’t-bother-me-on-my-smoke-break” scowl and makes Mandy’s exhaustion palpable as an antiheroine we both like and dislike. She snorts a line in the bathroom and has used bleach on the throats of ailing patients with healthy organs to get what she needs, but Mandy can have a heart. She will draw the line on the old Mr. Collins (Ted Ferguson), and as she says at one point, “I sometimes have too much faith in humanity.” Regina, on the other hand, is such an energetic half-wit that she can’t help but be loved, even when she succumbs to murder to save her own butt and doesn’t know a bladder from a kidney. As bubbly, not-so-bright Regina, Chloe Farnworth shines bright and becomes the film's secret weapon. She turns Regina's bumbling exploits into an irresistible riot every time, and yet we never forget that she’s willing to kill. And, of note, the phantasmagoric music score by composer Matt Glass (who also serves as a producer and the cinematographer), an experimental mix of strings and Norwegian heavy metal, is perfectly off-kilter. 

Without this round of specific, memorable characters we feel compelled to watch and see if they can get away with this mess—and the total commitment of the performances—“12 Hour Shift” might have been unpleasant to watch. It is not, however. There’s schadenfreude and just plain fun to be had as writer-director Brea Grant keeps her hapless, amoral characters on their feet longer than they already would be. Everything that could possibly go wrong for these organ-selling moonlighters does, and one almost can’t get enough of it. Of the two final punchlines to this very long night, the identity of the real organ thief fits right into the wonky tone and deranged sense of humor with the rest of the picture. The second one, however, is a real but bitter pill to swallow: Mandy will get a quick nap as soon as she clocks out and then have to go in to work a shift all over again. Rough around the edges, “12 Hour Shift” doesn’t let budgetary restraints get it down, as it has more personality than resources for Grant’s third feature to just manifest. 

Grade: B 

Magnolia Pictures and Magnet Releasing will release “12 Hour Shift” (88 min.) in select theaters and on demand October 2nd, 2020.