Last Shift

Last Shift, from co-writer and director Anthony DiBlasi, features Juliana Harkavy as Jessica, a rookie cop tasked with babysitting an old police station on its last night of operation. But as the night grows long, Jessica quickly discovers that the station is housing something more sinister than a few leftover files and bits of evidence.

This is how you start a tense little horror movie.

Last Shift is impressive. It’s a single-location movie with a very small cast that, by and large, really only has one actress in it. It’s a real basic premise where someone is somewhat isolated in a seemingly benign place with some inherent spookiness to it, but actually does have some unexpected, legitimate evil inside of it. And there’s a ticking clock for the character to run out. In this case, it’s the end of the main character’s shift and the break of day.

And it just works.

There’s no long-winded build up to a non-event. The movie starts at the start of the story, not ten minutes too soon. And it starts at the most interesting point too, with Jessica in her car outside the police station, arguing with her mom on the phone before her first shift as a police officer. She gets inside, gets a little creeped out. She meets another officer who gives her–and us–a quick rundown of her job that night–keep an eye on the place till morning, wait for a crew to come pick up and transport some leftover biohazardous evidence, and under no circumstance leave the premises. Cool. Quick, unsettling build up that sets up all the pieces we need and kicks off with a simple, grounded but totally creepy page-ten moment.

This might easily be one of the best, tightest opening ten minutes of a horror movie I’ve seen in years. So simple, yet elegant.

It takes a lot of hard work and talent to make something as basic as someone stuck alone at work in an empty building come across as interesting. Especially without resorting to loud music, weird noises, and cheap scares. And a big part of it has to do with how Juliana Harkavy feels vulnerable the entire time she’s on camera. Not helpless, just vulnerable. She’s nervous about her first day at work. She’s been fighting with her mom about becoming a police officer. And her introduction to this place and her coworker is this weird, legitimately uncomfortable moment where he storms out of a backroom pissed off about something, and then almost threatens her when he sees her standing there. She’s not angry. She’s not overly emotional. She simply doesn’t know how to respond. She’s young and inexperienced, but obviously brave enough to keep her composure and wits about her when shit gets that crazy out of nowhere.

Who knew good storytelling and character work could benefit a horror movie?

The best part so far is how there is no wasted time. Every scene. Every bit of dialog. Every beat has a point to it. It all builds on what came before. It’s clearly leading towards something. And even though it’s a story you’ve seen or read or heard a hundred times before, it’s the damn near flawless execution of it all–the directing, the acting, the editing–that makes it so compelling. If DiBlasi or Harkavy or anyone else involved had dragged their ass at any point, it’s likely Last Shift would have fallen flat real quick, as most similar movies tend to do.

That’s love and passion and hard work, right there. And it shines in the first ten minutes. So you should probably keep watching the rest to see where it takes you.

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