A rookie cop's 1st shift in the last night of a closing police station alone turns into a living nightmare.
Anthony DiBlasi, Scott Poiley
Juliana Harkavy as Officer Jessica Loren
Natalie Victoria as Marigold
Joshua Mikel as John Michael Paymon
Last Shift has received a lot of press it seems – for a non-studio film, which is super! Long live indie horror! But considering the film’s not the best thing to come along since sliced bread, I’m not sure it deserves so much air time. Don’t mistake that statement, as I did enjoy the film. Sadly though, it’s just not particularly memorable.
Borrowing inspiration from horror classics like A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Grudge and certainly Assault on Precinct 13, Last Shift isn’t terribly original. Why, there’s even a very potent image from the Oscar-winning The Sixth Sense re-used here.
Rookie Officer Jessica Loren (this is her first night on the force) has been assigned to oversee the final night of operations at a soon-to-be closed police station in the town of Sanford — alone. Her tasks will include answering the phone (if it rings – as all 911 calls will now be sent to the brand new station just up the way), directing any walk-ins to said new station, and awaiting the arrival of a group of hazmat professionals who will be making one final sweep through the evidence locker (which contains prisoner clothing and other items — possibly splattered in blood and other bodily fluids). A year ago, Officer Loren’s father (also a cop) died during the apprehension of a Charles Manson-esque cult leader and several of his followers. But as Officer Loren will begin to discover, the loose ends of that investigation and eventual bloodbath, are far from being tied up. Strange noises, objects moving on their own and random phone calls to the now-deserted station begin to occur.
Juliana Harkavy is Officer Loren The fact that she’s a trained police officer (albeit a very green rookie), works both for and against the character. The performance from Harkavy (one of “The Governor’s” cronies in a past season of The Walking Dead) is damn good. I don’t fault her with any of the problems to be discussed. What becomes an issue, is that since Officer Loren’s been through the ringer (one can assume police officer training is very trying and detailed) that even when things start to get strange (almost immediately) that she’ll still keep her cool, as that is what she is trained to do. And that’s what she does. She dismisses strange things (her job and reputation — not to mention her late father’s good name — are all on the line) and we as an audience approve of these shoulder shrugs. However, by remaining stoic for the majority of the weirdness she encounters (she continually recites her oath/duty when she is afraid) leave us less with which we may sympathize. It makes sense with the character and Harkavey pulls that off (as does the script) but then we never really have a true deep connection to her – and with that – no absolute fear and sympathy for her in this dire and terrifying situation. It’s what could be termed as “having your cake and eating it too”. The filmmakers can’t have it both ways. Even when Loren’s at her wits end, there’s the introduction of a new character and therefore a new way for her (and us) to rationalize all of the sensational things happening. Walking that fine line, doesn’t quite work, I’m afraid.
Natalie Victoria (of last year’s awesome Chemical Peel) shows up in a small role as Marigold, a prostitute who stops to have a smoke in the safety of the deserted station’s shadow. The character is there to offer the prerequisite exposition in a non-boring way, but the use of this side character is a dead giveaway. However, Victoria is an accomplished and gifted actress, so to have someone like her offering a reprieve from all of the wacky goings-on inside the station… well, we welcome it. In her few moments on-screen, she delivers a sexy, trashy and deeply damaged Marigold. And she even produces real tears. But we never see her again, which furthers the issue that she showed up to simply offer information – which Officer Loren might (and indeed, does) receive from another source later.
As far as jump-out-of-your seat “boo” moments, Last Shift delivers, time and again. But had we been more deeply invested in Officer Loren’s history and plight, things may well have been downright terrifying! Of note are the many times that some homeless dude appears in the station – searching through paperwork and looking for a pair of boots. His final appearance is shiver-inducing! Unfortunately, several of the random spectre appearances sort of defy explanation. We get the history of what went down in the police station, but some of these ghosts and apparitions seem out of place and unconnected to the wider tale… therefore their presence is unexplained and frankly, unnecessary.
And I think this will be perhaps the third time I’ve encountered this same problem this year, when reviewing films. Officer Loren is on her own in an abandoned police station. The stage is set for little intrusion from the outside. Things are moving on their own and there are flashes of someone (or something) else in the station with her. When we start to get into the details of who or what is inside the station, Last Shift begins to fall apart. The well-developed early atmosphere doesn’t crumble enough to warrant bad marks, but it’s definitely a problem. The big secrets and reveals of so many films lately, are just not paying off as they should. It’s not that they don’t make sense within the world created by the film, but they just don’t impress. That’s the case here in Last Shift. You (the filmmakers) have properly grabbed me, intrigued me and allowed me to settle in for a good flick, but you couldn’t keep it up for the entire running time. There was nothing rich or original about who and/or what is haunting this station.
I do have to say that the location for the film is a genuine find! Hand off a raise to the location scout who scored this place. One can assume it was an actual abandoned police station — as it feels authentic and lived-in. A giant triumph on this front!
Last Shift is nowhere near the ratings kiss of death. It’s definitely closer to the top than the bottom of the barrel, but still a ways off from a perfect score.
Last Shift is now available on DVD/VOD.