"Most cops go an entire career without seeing any action". So says rookie cop Jessica (Juliana Harkavy), speaking to her mother on her mobile 'phone moments before commencing her first shift at the last night in a soon-to-be-closed Florida police station. Her mother is against the notion of Jessica becoming fuzz. But what's the worst that could happen? Huh?
You may well ask, as Jessica has been asked to stay put at this transitioning station - she's not to leave it under any circumstances - and await the arrival of a hazmat crew who are due to pick up some crucial biomedical evidence before the night is over.
The night begins unremarkably enough. Jessica is given free reign of the abandoned building, and for some time her biggest tasks involve muddling through an incomprehensible distress call, evicting a wayward transient who appears to have strolled into the station simply to piss in it, and removing a freakishly long piece of hair that she found in her supper.
But then, before you have chance to utter ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (oh come on, the premise must've struck a chord), the strange shit starts to happen.
Jessica wanders through the locker corridor and is alarmed when she turns around to discover all of said lockers have simultaneously opened. Panicked Monica (Erica Lea Shelton) rings explaining she's on a ranch and desperately needs help. Strange, unexplained noises begin emanating from the holding cells.
Just the type of things you need when you've been left alone on your first night of duty, in charge of an apparently empty building - eh?!
Showing a resilience that prevents her from compromising her integrity as a new officer and calling for help, Jessica resolves to stick things out. Even when the aforementioned tramp inexplicably makes his way back into the station, and she even more bizarrely gets locked in a holding cell with him.
Jessica thankfully gets out of that situation. And yet she still, quite remarkably, seems steely in her determination to see the night through. It's only when she chats to tarty Marigold (Natalie Victoria), loitering outside the back of the station while enjoying a cigarette, that she begins to freak out. She learns via Marigold that a devil-worshipping Manson Family-type cult led by John (Joshua Mikel) committed suicide in the station's cells a couple of years earlier, and the place has been rumoured to be haunted by them ever since.
Can Jessica handle such a potential proposition on her own, along with the possibly connected calls from 17-year-old Monica?
Well-shot, well-edited and well-lit, LAST SHIFT certainly exhibits decent production values. Despite being light on actual visual FX, it's got a polish and sheen to it that is never less than broadcast quality. Filmed with considerable assurance, you can tell LAST SHIFT has the benefit of someone at the helm who's experienced within the genre.
Indeed, the film has been written and directed by Anthony DiBlasi - the guy behind the adaptation of Clive Barker's DREAD, and the underrated CASSADAGA. He's got form, so you'd expect to be in good hands ... and there are an equal amount of surprises as well as a thick lashing of tense atmosphere applied throughout. Some of the creepy theatrics - sound design, especially - are admittedly overplayed at times, but by-and-large this is pretty effective stuff. On a moderate scale.
I'm not familiar with Harkavy but I understand she's known from TV's "The Walking Dead". She acquits herself quite well here, carrying the film for the most part with a performance that's at once stoic and exposed. DiBlasi complements her with keen spookiness a la THE SHINING in the film's first half, before succumbing to cliche in the remaining 40 minutes (Manson cult singing; Asian horror tropes) - though the rudimentary masks worn by ghostly cult members are admittedly striking.
The lack of gore and overt sensation is cool; it's typical of DiBlasi's growing style to want to frighten his audience rather than gross them out. He does indulge in heavy-handed formula towards the end, yes - as mentioned above - but I still feel this will provide a rewarding experience for most viewers.
The only real bum notes in this film are the clips relating to the cult members (corny flashbacks and snappily edited nightmare sequences).
While LAST SHIFT kept me going in anticipation as to how it would end, its conclusion was a tad unsatisfying too. Not predictable, just ... I don't know, I don't want to spoil it. Suffice it to say, DiBlasi wants to scare his audience and - while being proven efficient at doing so - he has no qualms about forsaking all traces of originality in his quest.
Matchbox Films have released LAST SHIFT onto UK DVD in its fully uncut form. Although the screener disc we received was a DVD-R with no menus (though the film was remote-navigational by way of 8 chapters) or extras, I can at least testify to the fact that the 16x9 transfer is very good indeed: strong sharp images, natural flesh tones, solid blacks and true colours ensure a satisfying playback throughout.
Similarly, the English 2.0 audio track on offer was well-balanced and without justifiable qualm.
I enjoyed LAST SHIFT. It doesn't reinvent the wheel and it's unlikely to be fondly remembered in several years time. But it provides a solid evening's entertainment, while reaffirming Harkavy as a good leading actress and DiBlasi as a contemporary horror filmmaker of some potential.
Also available on blu-ray in the US.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Matchbox Films|
|see main review|