It’s 1999 and addict nurse Mandy is Not Having A Good Night. That could be because she’s tired and doesn’t want to work another night shift. Or it’s due to the fact that she sells organs on the side to her dimwitted cousin who works for an unforgiving crime ring — and shit just hit the fan. Written and directed by Brea Grant (who also wrote and stars in Lucky, another selection of Fantasia Festival), this dark comedy finds humor in the absurd as the characters spiral deeper into a night of bloody shenanigans.
Angela Bettis plays Mandy as a worn out and “over it” main character. Her impassive demeanor plays off of the other characters’ personalities and the crazy events of the film extremely well, heightening the comedy in the script. Regina (Chloe Farnworth) is Mandy’s helpless cousin who loses an organ after picking it up from her in the hospital alleyway. This one mistake causes the whole night to fall into madness. Aided by the cast of other quirky characters, including an appearance from David Arquette, 12 Hour Shift is a joyous journey of guts, murderers, and one nurse who is done with all this bullshit.
Humor is difficult to pull off, so it is a credit to Grant’s ability to construct a dark comedy around a full cast of characters with so many moving parts. As the night unfolds, we are introduced to numerous people around the hospital. They enter and exit scenes with perfect comedic timing, just when the audience has almost forgotten about an aspect of the story. The direction is felt through each performance, as they are certainly over the top but never too far out there to skip the humor and go straight to unbelievability. Many directors might have fumbled with the tone, but Grant makes it look effortless.
The story takes place mostly in the hospital, but the cinematography does well to elevate the environment and add to the absurdity of the reality that the viewers perceive. Clouded neon oozes into the frame, combining with contrasting colors to also give the eye a rich viewing experience. Costuming further enriches the visuals with creative design, however it never pushes the ’90s nostalgia aesthetic to an unrealistically cheesy degree.
Apart from the successful execution of all these elements, what really stands out is Mandy, the main character. She is a typical comedy archetype, except that archetype is usually reserved for males. An anti-hero from the start, Mandy is shown to be an unenthusiastic nurse who is rude to patients and only seems to be one in order to secure drugs for her addiction and to sell organs as a side gig. Women are so rarely allowed to be anti-heros, especially in leading roles, while these parts are constantly handed to men, so much so that at first I couldn’t quite put my finger on why Mandy was so compelling to me. The realistic portrayal of a woman who is just trying to survive in her stressful job environment while dealing with addiction was not only refreshing but comforting to see, especially in a dark comedy.
If 12 Hour Shift is any indication of Brea Grant’s style and talent, then the future of cinema is in good hands. The film is not only an outrageously fun time, but also offers audiences a refreshing female anti-hero. The concept is simple: organ dealing in a hospital goes very wrong and chaos ensues. However, Grant is able to elevate the plot above just blood and guts, delivering a hilarious and insightful film that marks another spectacular entry from a female director.