Hello, everyone! My last review of Creep was fairly negative, so I promised to write a positive review to balance that out. The first horror movie I watched last week was a chilly little horror called Last Shift, directed by Anthony DiBlasi, who has directed a bunch of other horror movies and was the executive producer for Midnight Meat Train, which I haven’t seen but heard was a great film. The film is small and contained in atmosphere, but nonetheless quite ambitious. It’s the type of movie that scared me in such a way that I would track my cursor across the progression bar at the bottom of the screen to see the next image before it played, just so I could prepare myself.
Synopsis: Rookie cop Loren is chosen to work the last shift in a now-defunct police station. Her orders are to wait for the hazardous waste collectors, who are coming between 10 pm and 4 am to collect the hazmat from the evidence room. Determined to prove herself, Loren stays put, even as the abandoned police station begins to show signs of paranormal activity. The restless spirits and outside intruders hint at a secret past to the station that Loren is unaware of, a past that just might have something to do with her father, killed the year before in the line of duty. As the activity escalates from a nuisance to something downright sinister, Loren must decide where her priorities lie: her own safety, or her desire to be a “good cop.”
From the outset, DiBlasi establishes a clear contained world for our protagonist. She is a rookie cop armed with only the desire to prove herself, and in order for that to take place she must survive in an empty police station. There’s no immediate threat to Loren, but that doesn’t make the beginning of the movie any less full of dread. After all, as any avid horror viewer knows, being alone carries its own dangers. An empty building is just, if not more, dangerous than a populated one.
What I really like about the setting is that DiBlasi finds a way to make a fairly simple police precinct into a constantly evolving set. I mentioned this in my review of Creep, but I think it’s of the utmost importance in a horror movie to infuse the locations of the narrative with surprise. If we know what to expect in every room the protagonist enters, we won’t have any reason to be scared. This wasn’t the case in Last Shift. In the first few scenes, Loren’s superior officer tells her the layout of the building, including the weight room, the kitchen, the hazmat room, and the holding cell, which he warns her to stay away from. Even though the setting is explicitly detailed, it’s still full of surprises. Every room Loren entered was filled with new supernatural elements to deal with, from the relatively innocuous cabinet doors opening of their own accord, to an eerily symmetrical circle of masked girls. Loren never leaves the police precinct, but I was never bored, not one bit. DiBlasi knew how to make his limited setting seem complex and fresh at every turn.
In the same way that DiBlasi made a simple setting seem complex, he also made his limited number of characters interesting and as one Rotten Tomato reviewer put it, “infinitely watchable.” Loren is a great protagonist, as she’s both confident and capable, but with enough insecurities and human fear to keep her relatable. I’d say that she is the only “normal” character in a cast of oddballs and weirdos. I don’t agree with all of the choices she makes, especially when it concerns her determination to stand her ground in the police building, but I do think that her choices are telegraphed to the audience as being strongly grounded in her past experiences, which is a feat in itself in horror movies, since so many protagonists are tragically underwritten. The other characters in the movie don’t get the same development, but they are memorable in their unique ways. Officer Price, for instance, was warm and compassionate in his few minutes onscreen, but also off in a way that I couldn’t quite grasp until the big reveal. It was the same with Loren’s superior officer Cohen and the prostitute outside. All of the supporting characters gave off an unsettling air of imbalance.
The greatest air of imbalance came from the villains of the movie, the Paymon family. Now I’ve seen enough satanic movies to be a bit tired with it all, but damn if these people didn’t frighten the shit out of me. The lengths they were willing to go to was terrifying, mostly because they presented their insanity through self-mutilation. Props to the make-up department for creating the most disturbing facial cuts that I have seen in a while. The acting of the members of the Paymon family was the standard preaching Manson family wannabe fare, but I wasn’t focused on what they were saying. I was focused on their faces, their expressions, and the horrible way in which they crawled on the floor. The gore in Last Shift is its greatest strength, due to its tendency to be simultaneously creative and cover-your-eyes disgusting. There was one scene where I had to look away from the creature onscreen because I didn’t want that image burned into my brain. Luckily, I had a bunch of Glasgow smiles burned into my brain instead.
I only disliked the ending of the movie, which I felt added a “fake-out” element that the movie didn’t need. Either go with the supernatural or go with the psychological, but don’t switch at the end! It’s cheap, it’s everywhere, and it needs to stop. Besides that, I thought that Last Shift was a thrill to watch, and while I wouldn’t want to live through the experience again (those mutilated faces will live in my mind forever), I do recommend it for anyone who is a fan of nifty little horrors on Netflix. It’s definitely one of the best horror films I’ve found on that site.
Final Consensus: Last Shift uses every last inch of its tiny world to great effect. The scares are plenty, the gore a little too gory, and the plot strong, if too twisty. The Last Shift piles on more than it needs to reach maximum scariness, but when it comes to horror movies, too much horror is far, far better than not enough.