Bloody and deadpan farce about a single night in an Arkansas hospital, featuring murder, drugs, a fake nurse, and a refreshing musical interlude.
Stories of inept criminals, or crimes gone wrong, can produce tense drama or slapstick comedy. 12 Hour Shift, the second feature from writer/director Brea Grant, blends both into a sublime black comedy. It follows Mandy (Angela Bettis), an amoral yet caring nurse, during one long shift in a tired Arkansas hospital.
The black comedy comes into play because Mandy is not simply a (probationary) nurse, but a drug-taking, organ-stealing, euthanizing redneck who seems to get along with only one of her colleagues and cares more than she wants to for her family members. She is a wonderful, fascinating creation, and I would love to know more about her; but 12 Hour Shift gives us just a twelve-hour story.
Bettis plays Mandy like a natural, dishing out insults as smoothly as she cleans a wound. I’ve seen her play a couple of roles in the past which I recall as fragile in comparison (I’m thinking of May and Mrs. Cleek in The Woman), but it is easy to forget those while watching 12 Hour Shift. The other key figure in this chaotic night is Mandy’s cousin (by marriage), Regina (Chloe Farnworth), and the two couldn’t be more different. Mandy is a serious, strung out and intelligent nurse; Regina is an energetic, yet ditzy airhead who knows nothing about anatomy beyond her own cleavage. Regina is tasked with collecting organs that Mandy sneaks out from newly-deceased cadavers and bringing them to her black market boss. On the surface, this isn’t a difficult task, but on this particular night, Regina gets it wrong and expects Mandy to pick up the pieces.
Regina may be a caricature of a bimbo, but for the most part, everyone in this hospital setting is utterly realistic; indeed this extreme contrast just serves to highlight how real everyone else feels. There’s fellow nurse, Karen (Nikea Gamby-Turner), who is fed up with unreasonable patients and not looking forward to her birthday; there’s a visitor panicking about the care her mother with Alzheimer’s disease is going to receive; and a senior nurse who cannot handle losing control of her floor. And yes: most of the people we see in 12 Hour Shift are female, and it’s a joy to see what variety of parts can be given to women in just a single film.
There are some men, mind you, but they are largely there either as obstacles or to add to the chaos. Most notable is David Arquette, with a small part as a patient brought in to the hospital under police guard; and wrestler Mick Foley as one of the criminal gang. My favorite though was the single orderly (played by Thomas Hobson) who brings joy to the floor with music and dancing, but no-one notices. The way everyone operates in their own sphere, unaware of strangers or missing organs, feels perfectly apt in a busy hospital setting.
That setting, and the way Brea Grant directs her cast within it, makes the story of 12 Hour Shift truly come to life. I’ve spent enough time in hospitals to recognize the ebb and flow of activity, the grumpy staff, the crying patients. I’m not going to presume the crimes we see here are part of hospital life too, but in adding inept murders and organ trading to a familiar environment, Grant has created a very entertaining and anarchic film.
Alix has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. They cover a wide variety, including genre festivals, and especially appreciates wit and representation on screen.