Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Women in Horror: Last Shift

* spoilers *

Officer Jessica Loren's first day of work involves her being a glorified security guard, much to her disappointment. The only reason a police officer needs to stay and babysit an empty police station is that a hazmat team is set to pick up the biohazardous evidence between the hours of 10pm and 4am. On the surface, this seems like an easy but dull task foisted off on a rookie cop for her first assignment As the night goes on, unexplainable things happen with increasing intensity having to do with the circumstances surrounding her father's death. Is she going crazy or is there something supernatural at work going on?

Last Shift is a very unexpected film that I just stumbled across on Netflix. I expected a typical horror film that was marginally enjoyable, but it exceeded all of my expectations and more. The film starts a little off kilter. When Officer Loren gets to the station, the Sergeant acts strangely, which is easily brushed off. The tense mood is heightened by startling events that get harder and harder for her to explain away. It starts with flickery lights, loud noises, a seriously disgusting bathroom, and a weirdly long hair in her sandwich. Then it escalates to an erratic homeless man, a frantic phone call from a girl under attack, an eerie song sung over her radio, and things that move by themselves. A lot of these events happen in quick succession, heightening the suspense. One of the best scenes is when she locks up the homeless man in a holding cell after he enters the station twice. The door slams shut behind her, startling her into dropping her flashlight. The room is pitch dark and her flashlight is shined in her face and rolled around to three different unseen people in the room as they taunt her in barely audible voices. The scene makes the viewer as disoriented and creeped out as the main character. Another scene is filmed close to Officer Loren's face as she desperately tries to help a girl running from murderers. Every emotion plays across her face. These two scenes in particular both heighten the mood of the film and puts us in her shoes and make us feel what she feels with unique cinematography choices and good acting.

Officer Loren takes the majority of these things in stride. She keeps a cool head through much of the film even in the face of the unexplainable. Her drive is to prove herself and to be the best police officer she can be. Instead of praying, she recites the law enforcement oath she took to uphold the law and have integrity and responsibility as a police officer. It shows how steeped in reason she is and how dedicated she is to her career, which she shares with her deceased father. Unfortunately, she doesn't really know how to process all of the strange things going on, so she ends up dismissing them as delusions or simply rejecting them because they don't fit into her world view until it's too late. I appreciate a woman in a horror film who isn't totally hysterical or irrational as they are often portrayed. Officer Loren has training for stressful and dangerous situations and utilizes it well. Many times, she experienced insane, horrific events and then interacted with people fairly normally not long afterwards. The only thing she acts irrationally about is her job. Most people would have just left, but her drive to continue her father's legacy overrides logic. Unlike many horror films, Officer Loren isn't cut off from everyone. She can call anyone at any time and can freely leave the building, but who is going to believe her? She can't prove what's happening and anything she tries to explain sounds like a prank or insanity. In the quiet moments between the nightmarish episodes, she contemplates calling someone, leaving, or simply waiting in her car, but something always brings her back in and she dismisses mentioning the strange events directly to anyone she interacts with until the very end. I especially enjoyed that the main dilemma of the film is centered around the inability to explain the supernatural rather than the protagonist's ineptitude.

The supernatural episodes make sense after a prostitute named Marigold hanging around outside shares that she was in a holding cell when a wannabe Manson family called the Paymon's were brought in and killed themselves inside their cell. Marigold is surprisingly fleshed out for her short screen time. She is irrepressibly cheerful despite the fading shiner on her face, but her whole demeanor breaks when she describes the song the Paymon's sang and their suicide. It's clear how deeply the event affected her. Public records states that the criminals were killed at the crime scene and only few people know they were interviewed and then killed themselves. Presumably, the events are caused by their ghosts. Like the Manson family, they have a charismatic leader who his followers will do absolutely anything for. They view him as the second coming of King of Hell, who is different than Satan. Satan is God's lapdog, who still carries out his commands. The King of Hell was there before Satan, will be there after, and demands the sacrifice of innocents. The Paymon's surety, fanaticism, and fervor are frightening and they are no less so as apparitions (if that's what they are) especially when they sing their song. Officer Loren's father died during the raid trying to save the teenaged victims. Obviously, she has a lot of emotions about the event and it may be causing her to lose her mind and hallucinate. Other people's accounts point to strange events, but this is all through Officer Loren's unreliable point of view. The ending is rather ambiguous, but tragic all around.

Last Shift is a stressful film to watch. It's easy to put yourself in Officer Loren's shoes as she tries to not only survive but make sense of the situation. There are moments of humor or boredom to break up the tension, but I felt shaken after watching and I kept thinking about it days afterwards. The twists and turns keep coming even during the lulls and I had no idea where it was going to end up. Juliana Harkavy does an excellent job of portraying competent and logical Jessica Loren as she deals with supernatural forces or descends into madness, depending on how you interpret the film. Natalie Victoria had about 5 minutes of screen time, but made Marigold into a fully fleshed out character. The Paymon's, portrayed by Joshua Mikel, Sarah Scuclo, and Kathryn Kilger, made their characters stand out as cheerfully evil and unphased by capture, threats, or even death. Last Shift is on Netflix at the moment, so I recommend that you give it a watch if you haven't already.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

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