Stream to Scream: “LAST SHIFT”Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
While the old saying goes “never judge a book by its cover,” the same ideology can sometimes be difficult to apply to films with underwhelming, misrepresenting or flat-out terrible key art. In the age of streaming platforms, bad key art has almost become the standard in order to hook the widest viewership possible, even if it repels the film’s core audience. Yet on the flip side of bad streaming key art, they do present a certain benefit for these films by lowering expectations for the audience which, when paired with a truly fantastic film like Anthony DiBlasi’s LAST SHIFT, can make a surprising experience all the more unpredictable and worthwhile.
For those who haven’t checked out LAST SHIFT, the film follows a young rookie cop, whose first night on the job is the anniversary of her father’s murder at the hands of a Manson Family-esque cult. Her first assignment seems easy enough: watch over the recently evacuated police station while waiting for a disposal crew to arrive and rid the place of remaining evidence bags. However, after receiving some distressing phone calls and creepy hallucinations, the cop begins to suspect that something much more terrifying may be at play.
With an atmosphere evocative of KILL LIST, ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 and 1408, LAST SHIFT is an intense and, at times, legitimately scary flick, bouncing between psychological and supernatural horror in a shockingly organic fashion. The film plays its cards subversively but underhandedly so; in a sense, LAST SHIFT may appear to be setting up a predictable plot point before jumping 180 degrees in an instant. Yet perhaps what really makes LAST SHIFT so damn scary is how well it pulls off even the more familiar frights, which in part can be attributed to the particularly fantastic backstory and mythology revealed over the course of the film. And LAST SHIFT also brilliantly never tips its hat too far into making the horror explicit either, allowing every terrifying moment to be offered with just enough doubt to arise skepticism even when we see the emotional and physical consequences in our leading lady.
LAST SHIFT marks a fantastic entry in the growing oeuvre of DREAD’s Anthony DiBlasi, who co-wrote the film with his CASSADAGA cohort Scott Poiley. With lean direction and a brilliant sense of pacing, DiBlasi earns every scare he puts on screen, which eventually builds into palpable dread which beautifully pays off in the third act (even though the very final twist is a bit frustrating). With creepy and sharp cinematography from Austin F. Schmidt, grisly FX work from Jeremy S. Brock, Jason Murphy and Lee Grimes, and a solid yet nuanced score from Adam Barber, LAST SHIFT is as technically savvy as it is creepy, which luckily makes the film all the more immersive in its scares.
The film also lucks out in having a limited yet pitch perfect cast in its corner, anchored by an incredible performance by THE WALKING DEAD’s Juliana Harkavy. Harkavy impressively puts her humanity on display first and foremost, allowing for subtle moments of fear, relief, and anxiety to flow through her performance just as effortlessly as her bigger moments of physical terror and emotional vulnerability. Meanwhile, Joshua Mikel, Sarah Sculco, Kathryn Kilger and Mary Lankford are rather terrifying as the cult members on display, and the film also features strong turns from Hank Stone, Matt Doman, Natalie Victoria and J. Larose
Overall, LAST SHIFT is definitely not the film to be missed due to its blunt and unengaging key art; it’s a genuinely creepy genre effort that probably deserved more fanfare upon its initial release. Nevertheless, it’s a fantastic horror flick to watch home alone on any given night, with the strong scares and unsettling imagery guaranteed to get under one’s skin in that setting.