Streaming Screams: “Last Shift”

Everybody’s had a lousy job. The first job where I drew a regular paycheck was refilling the buffet at Bonanza, a now defunct chain restaurant similar to Sizzler, which meant spending several hours a day inside a dimly lit walk-in refrigerator that always stank of rotting vegetables. Many years later I worked for a few months in the collections department of a well known college loan provider (the name rhymed with “Callie Rae”), which was about as horrifying an experience as you can imagine. And even after that, I worked for a medical supply company, in an office exactly like the one Tom Hanks worked in at the beginning of Joe Versus the Volcano, right down to the non-dairy creamer and awful, blinking fluorescent lighting. I understand what it means to have a shit job that you feel a frustrating responsibility to maintain.

All that’s a walk in the park compared to the job Jessica Loren is stuck with in 2014’s Last Shift, however. Jessica (played by Juliana Harkavy) is a rookie cop assigned to watch over a defunct police station until a hazmat team can come by to clean out the evidence room. Determined to carry on the good name of her father, a hero cop killed a year earlier while capturing a murderous, Manson Family-esque cult, Jessica settles in for a long, lonely evening at the station, with only her police regulations guide as company. Her shift has barely begun before a homeless man somehow makes it past her into the lobby and urinates on the floor. This turns out to be the least troubling thing Jessica experiences, as she eventually discovers the real reason why the station is closing down for good.

That’s a pretty bare bones plot description, I know, but I really don’t want to give too much away about this solid little horror movie. Last Shift has been described elsewhere as “Assault on Precinct 13 with ghosts,” and that’s more or less true, but it’s all done very straight, and it’s surprisingly effective. Despite spoiling myself by reading the plot description on Wikipedia beforehand (a terrible habit, to be sure), I found myself pulled into the story and even uncomfortably tense in some scenes. One hair-raising sequence has Jessica locked in a pitch black holding cell with someone (or something) that she can’t see, as it shines a flashlight in her face and whispers “I’m gonna hurt yoooouuuu.” There are plenty of other jarring moments too, punched up with almost constant ambient noise of one kind or another. At a fraction of the budget, it manages to get under your skin far more efficiently than most current mainstream horror.

Last Shift is hindered a bit by the disappointing ending, which feels a little slap-dash and doesn’t fit with the unsettling tone of the rest of the movie. It also plays into many of the usual haunted house movie cliches, including the fast head shake thing that seems to be required by law, but the unique setting, plus Juliana Harkavy’s strong performance sets it considerably above the pack. Jessica is not the “final girl” in this, she’s the only girl, and not a wilting flower ready to run or beg for a man’s help at the first sign of trouble. When she does eventually weaken and consider abandoning her post, which would be perfectly reasonable by that point, she reasserts herself as strong and responsible, and continues trying to push through, despite ever more horrifying events. Without spoiling anything, how Jessica is written makes the ending even more of a disappointment. She deserves some sort of payoff for all she’s been through, and yet…well, watch it for yourself and find out.

Last Shift is currently available on Netflix

 

 

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