Last Shift is an independent horror movie that debuted at the London FrightFest Film Festival in 2014. About a year after that, it got a wide release on VoD. The movie follows Juliana Harkavy's rookie cop Jessica Loren who, on her very first shift, is tasked with holding down the fort at the last shift ever at the old police station before the transition to the new one is complete. How does it go? Well you'll have to watch the movie to find out. Or read our review, but not if you don't want the thing spoiled. I mean . . . We told you to watch it. Geeze. Peep the trailer below and then go further if you're not afraid of spoilers for our review. Let us know if you agree with us or think we're idiots or whatever.
Mark: The Last Shift. How about this one, eh Jack?
Jack: Hey Mark? Couple things. First, it's just "Last Shift," no "the." Second, I know Jake’s gone and you’re subbing in and all and that’s great, it really is. But there’s a paradigm around these parts and It works this way: In two weeks time, you’ll notice I’ve been gone for fourteen days. Oh wait, shit. That’s Nick Lowe’s 14 Days. The paradigm around here works by me starting by saying the title. Me. That’s my thing. It’s what I’m best known for.
Mark: Wow. I just… wow. Sorry man, didn’t mean to step on your toes there. I guess now that we’ve gotten that out of the way we can get down to business. This movie has a police officer and she says that it’s her first shift, but the movie is called Last Shift. It’s all very confusing. Welp, I’m tapped out.
Jack: Solid work bud. Glad you’re here to pick up the slack for Jake. For the intrepid reader scared and confused at that angry asshole’s absence, he’s too busy screaming about coffee being for closers and “fuck you, that’s my name.” I mean, I assume. That scene exhausts 100% of my business knowledge. But I assume this is Jake’s day-to-day work right?
Jack: I’ll save us from that digression which I just created. You see Mark, it’s the first shift of rookie cop (protagonist Jessica Loren), but her shift is to be the last shift ever at the old police station (our setting) which is shutting down. It’s such a useless fucking task that they give it to the boot on her first time ever on the force. Hilarious.
Mark: You’d think that she would’ve known this going in, but she seems surprised by the assignment when she shows up to the station. She enters to meet the literal only other person in the station, Sergeant Cohen. He’s freaking the fuck out slamming lockers shut and just being a grumpy old Gus. For whatever reason the film never actually tells you why. It’s just sorta the introduction to her first day on the job. Whatever, I’ve had worse. Anyway, after Sergeant Tantrum calms down a bit he lets forth a river of exposition informing us about what’s going on. Long story short (too late) she is not to leave the premises all night under penalty of… well nothing really. I guess they just take the honor system pretty seriously down Californee-way.
Jack: And then Jessica is alone in the station. Instantly bored. The movie does a pretty great job of establishing a creepy atmosphere early on. The lighting in some of the abandoned rooms feels off. Not quite sure exactly how to describe it, but it’s just a little bit wrong. Maybe too green? It’s probably too green. That’s not good, just ask Mark Ruffalo. Although the sound in these early scenes is great. There’s subdued techno sounds that pulse and swell with the cinematography, and even subtle and incomprehensible whispering that seems like it’s coming out of the lights. Again, pretty standard first day of work stuff.
Mark: Jack, you ignorant slut, can’t you see the lighting was brilliant choice by the DP to highlight the sterility of the station and its aging and decrepit facilities? It’s jarring and a bit alienating, but that’s kinda exactly what you want in a horror movie, no? All goes basically normal until a random hobo shows up and pees on the floor. As near as I can tell this event is wholly unassociated with the rest of the events of the film. Hobos, amirite? For the record, IMDB credits the hobo as being named “Panty Belt Patrick Black.” So you know, there’s that.
Jack: Well Mark there’s fun party-time hobos who just blew into town riding the rails, look like their name is Rosko with a “k,” and pee on the floor of your lobby; and then there’s the less fun kind of hobo that make us consider the true plight of homelessness in America. Either way, “Rosko” provides some excellent and subtle character insight into Jessica, as we see that she really cares because she leaves him a pair of boots after sending him on his way. It’s a well-executed scene that shows rather than tells.
Mark: This is where it starts to ratchet up a bit. In a move unprecedented and refreshing in the prestigious genre of horror, the lights go out. Totally didn’t see it coming. In all seriousness though, the movie does actually start to step its game up. In one of the creepier touches in the movie Jessica tries to radio for help, but is only able to raise a faint crackly singing over the radio. She wanders through a totally normal men’s bathroom before stumbling on the hobo causing a ruckus again, this time in the evidence locker.
Jack: That leads straight into the first scary scene of the movie. And scary it is. All my favorite horror movies find a way to control the variables and safety valves that the viewer subconsciously relies on, and this does a goddamned incredible job of that in this scene. Jessica is trying to lock up Pee-Pants McFile-Stealer in a holding cell so she won’t have to deal with him anymore, when the lights go out. The only light we get as the viewers is from her flashlight, which is being whipped around frantically because she’s trying to do police work. We get strobe-ish flashes of what’s going on, and none of it seems good. Then the lights come back on but Jessica has been locked in the cell somehow. Then the movie delivers a well-earned jump scare when some fucking face thing straight out of a Nine Inch Nails music video shoves its deformed-ass visage up against the viewing window.
Mark: I loved this scene. It actually did quite a bit to raise my impression of the movie on the whole. When I look back on this one, the scene when she’s locked in the cell will be the one I remember. It’s more than just a jump scare. It rolls into a longer and earnestly terrifying scene where the flashlight is shining on Jessica, and then slowly pans to illuminate the still tazed hobo in the corner. It’s the first realization that Jessica isn’t the only one in the station.The lighting is creative, the sound design from being trapped in a small cell is fairly well executed, and the acting holds up surprisingly well.
Jack: For sure man. It had my bathroom looking like that picture from up above if you know what I mean. Poop. Poop is what I mean. The joke was that it was so scary that I pooped. Shut up. It was an excellent scene.
Mark: This whole time as shit is going down (zinger!) the viewer is obviously screaming at Jessica to just get out of the station. She could even just go sit in her car without breaking her word that she gave to the sergeant. As a result the movie introduces a device to keep Jessica at her desk - phone calls from a girl named Monica. Monica is trapped in a farmhouse, is in immediate danger, and her only lifeline is Officer Loren. This somehow keeps Jessica relatively calm and gives her a purpose other than running around from creepy moment to creepy moment within the station. Anyways, before long she’s back to running from creepy moment to creepy moment within the station.
Jack: Before we get too far into all these great scenes, I wanna talk about one for which I did not care. Because apart from saying the title at the start of these things (that’s a call-back joke readers, try to keep up), my other thing is shitting on things. I’m a regular Andy Rooney.
Mark: Uh huh. Yeah. So here’s a few things about that. Andy Rooney was a loveable curmudgeon with good natured complaints. You’re just a guy we put up with because we’re pretty sure at some point in our futures we’re gonna need legal help of some kind, and you’ll be our man on the inside. I do, however, agree that you’re a “know-nothing boob.”
Jack: Just shut up and let me complain. I’ll be lovable when I’m old and less ridiculously good-looking. That rubs people the wrong way. In any case, you were talking about the river of exposition delivered by the sergeant earlier? Well those levies held about as well as those in New Orleans (too soon?), because we get treated to a scene where a lady of the night is smoking a cigarette by the back bay of the station and Jessica goes out to tell her to cut it the fuck out. Turns out, she’s a veritable font of exposition (and butt jokes), and she tells Jessica all about how the Manson-family-esque cult that Jessica’s dad died capturing actually all hung themselves in the holding cells but nobody knows that. After delivering that piece of seemingly random (unless you’re actually a viewer to the movie rather than a character in it), she just . . . sort of . . . leaves.
Mark: And by this point we basically begin to see how this movie works. Scary scene, scary scene, random bout of exposition. Scary scene, scary scene, expository flashback. Rinse. Repeat. Luckily enough for the movie the scary scenes are actually pretty well executed and are varied enough to keep you on your toes. There’s your standard mischief-like chair stacking. You got your Japanese horror corpsey crawlies. You got your “he’s been dead for 10 years” scene. You got your creepy young women sitting in a circle wearing masks and singing songs. They really fire on all cylinders. Despite the fact they’re all tied together with very little work done by the script they still do their job to a decent extent. I am actually pretty sure the reason it all works is because of the strength of the acting job delivered by Juliana Harkavy.
Jack: She is fantastic. There is a staggeringly small amount of plot going on here, which is good considering the unadulterated and high-test exposition that the movie uses when there is plot. What the movie does have in spades is genuinely well-put-together and frightening scenes strung together with Harkavy’s great and believable performance as someone who doesn’t know whether she’s actually being haunted or is proper brain-bananas. And her performance meant that I, as the viewer, was similarly confused and paranoid and scared. It worked well. This movie could’ve easily been hamstrung by its one-man-band style script, but she pretty effortlessly puts the team on her back, Greg Jennings style.
Mark: Eventually we get into the movie’s endgame. Through another wall of (you guessed it) exposition we get some backstory on the cult from a suicidal member, pissed that she got “left behind.” Turns out they praise the king of hell. Not Satan though. Totally different guy. Way more evil and way more cool. You’d be lucky to join this cult, because then you’d be the cool kid. Having fulfilled her role as exposition delivery girl, the cult girl promptly shoots herself in the head. Remember kids, suicide is never the answer. There’s always more exposition you can deliver.
Jack: Yeah, she straight pops herself. And this is what I was talking about earlier with the filmmakers controlling the variables and safety-valves. Jessica tries everything during this phase of the movie. She tries to call the Sgt., but he just chalks it up to her paranoia and asks her if she wants to be fired. She tries to call the new police station, but they’re no help to her. She even tries the Hazmat crew coming in later to clean out the old evidence room, desperate for human contact, but they’re elbow-deep in shit, literally, mind you, and can’t come. Finally she tries to just stone book it, but she’s first guilted into coming back to help Monica, and then later just physically can’t leave because magic. The lock won’t open the door, and glass seems to be absorbing the rounds she fires into it. It made me feel isolated as the viewer. And that made me feel scared. I like that a lot.
Mark: I disagree with the magical station jail actually. It sorta broke the immersion for me. On the one hand it shows how powerful the evil forces are (they praise the King of Hell after all), but it also just seemed kinda hokey. It’s imprisonment by fiat instead of an actual clever cinematic device. You can basically hear the writers sitting around the table clamoring to figure out how to keep her in the station, and one of them just goes “uhhh, guys, why don’t we just, like, you know, not let her leave?”
Jack: I actually want to take a moment here to acknowledge that the flow of our review feels a little off. Now, as much as I wish that were done on purpose like the lighting in this movie (another callback people, I’m on fire), I am quite certain we’re not that smart. I also don’t know why we would want our review of a horror movie to be unsettling. That’s what the movies are for. These reviews are for the laughs. And for us to get unspeakably wealthy. In any case, I think the flow feels off because of how hard of a movie this was to talk about. This movie relies so much on feeling, that once you bring that up it feels like there just isn’t that much more to add. The plot is so minimal, that unless we just want to literally describe every scene of the movie in order, there’s not that much to talk about. And I already did that thing in my upcoming novelization of the movie The Last Shift. It’s going on sale at second grade book fairs everywhere this July. Keep your eyes peeled, and use the code wtf_pod at checkout for an extra 10% off.
Mark: You know… at checkout from your local 2nd grade book fair. The ones that apparently now take coupon codes randomly given out on shady internet blogs.
Mark: To cut to the very, very end of the movie, the cult leader, Paymon, materializes in front of a bed sheet. Presumably to exact his highly elaborate revenge plot upon his arresting officers. It’s all very Edmond Dantes. This is supposed to be the climax of the movie, but it just comes off as campy. The effects are so poorly done that I actually laughed out loud. I guess it’s really not that bad, but they gave him weird shark teeth for goodness sake.
Jack: I don’t know, I actually liked Peymon a decent little bit. They didn’t show him so much that he lost all mystery, and I thought his pointy little teeth were pretty fucking creepy. Not a bad villain as far as third-act reveals go. I do agree that I think it would have been better without him actually (?) showing up, but I don’t think that his presence took much away either. In any case, his followers have seemingly broken into the station, and we a get a really tense standoff between Jessica and the followers who are darting around like they’re from one of those damn Scooby Doo chase scenes.
Mark: We’re left with one last shyamalamadingdong twist. As Officer Loren finally busts a cap in the last cult member, Sergeant Cohen shows up behind her and shoots her in the chest. He must be evil and in on it, you say? Nope. Boom. Grand Reveal. She was hallucinating and systematically slaughtering the Hazmat team that was due to arrive to clean up the totally normally looking men’s bathroom (we’re all about the callbacks). Paymon and some of his followers materialize in front of Jessica as she bleeds out from her gunshot wound, and steal her soul or something? I don’t know. The whole movie should’ve ended about 20 seconds earlier and it would’ve actually been a decent ending.
Jack: So you wanna rate this thing or what?
Mark: I mean, yeah, but don't you have a segment you want to do?
Jack: I mean fuck man, you come in here, you say the name of the movie first, and now you think you can handle my segment? The balls on some people. No, just ratings for now.
For 1, think of how you would rate the chances of neither of these men not being a pervert of some variety:
For 10, think of how you would rate the level of 80's present in this California Raisins ad by Michael Jackson:
Jack: 5 - Look, the story is simplistic. Very simplistic. But they didn’t bite off more than they could chew or try to gussie it up or what have you. They just used the story as an excuse for a bunch of well-made vignettes in between. And it worked, and the story didn’t take away from it here (looking at you Zack Snyder).
Mark: 3 - As you probably figured out from the review, the script and overall story are the weak points of this one by a long shot. The story is basically just vomited onto you via various exposition dumps. With weaker acting talent this whole ship would’ve sunk.
WORLD-BUILDING / IMMERSION:
Jack: 7 - I was pretty sucked into this world from the beginning. To its benefit, the movie does very little to pull me out. The acting is great, the sound design and cinematography are terrific, and the pacing and editing made me forget I was watching a movie, instead making me feel more like I was actually trapped in that station. Pretty great.
Mark: 6 - I think they do a decent job of capitalizing on the vulnerability of starting a new job and having no idea what you’re doing to draw the viewer in. We’ve all been there before, Jessica’s just goes worse than most. There are a few immersion breakers like Paymon materializing, poorly executed flashbacks, and the magic bulletproof glass, but overall it’s a positive.
Jack: 6 - There are some really good scares in this thing. There are a few jump scares, but all of them feel well-earned on the back of a lot of hard work setting up the proper feeling and tone of the movie through the sound design and cinematography.
Mark: 7 - As Jack said above, this movie functions great on the level of it being basically just a series of horror short films about a haunted police station. Most of them are pretty high on the creepy scale, and even if one doesn’t stir your stew you can just wait about 2 minutes until you get to the next one.
EFFECTS (OR JUDICIOUS LACK THEREOF):
Jack: 5 - I think overall the movie did a pretty good job with its effects. I thought the brains on the back of the dead officer’s head looked a little much, and there was one scene where I was pretty convinced I could see where the wires were lifting a “levitating” body.
Mark: 6 - The sound and lighting are what really make this category for me. They bring a consistently sterile and alienating vibe to the station without being overwhelming. There’s a few effects-heavy corpses wandering around that are pretty well done as well. Where this category falls apart is the Paymon scenes. Instead of going for the subtle they opt to go for the overt and unfortunately, it just doesn’t work out for them.
Jack: 6 - This movie is definitely worth a watch. The under-90 minute runtime means that you can make the time too. And you should. It’s got an eerie tone, and some genuinely good scares. Is it perfect? No, but it’s more than good enough.
Mark: 6 - To keep it short, I was very pleasantly surprised for a free-to-stream-on-Netflix movie that looked fairly low budget. It’s not the best horror movie I’ve seen in that category, but it is FAR from the worst. The initial scene in the cell is one of the best horror scenes I’ve seen in a long while.