Using the framework of John Carpenter’s classic Assault On Precinct 13 (1976) as a template, Writer/Director Anthony DiBlasi’s Last Shift reshapes that framework into a surprisingly scary supernatural tale. Set in a near abandoned police station, it tells the story of a rookie police officer, Jessica (Juliana Harkovy) who reports to duty at a police station that has quite a history behind it. The station is about to be closed down for good, she’s there only to watch over some medical waste that’s to be picked up by a hazmat team sometime during the night. Her only other duty is to reroute any 911 calls that she receives to the brand new police station a few blocks away. This being her first night on the job, she’s understandably nervous. Coincidentally, her father was a cop at this very precinct, and was killed in the line of duty a year earlier. Jessica’s first day of work just happens to be on the same day her father died. But Jessica has far bigger fish to fry because the abandoned station is haunted. A demented cult leader by the name of John Michael Paymon (Joshua Mikel), and two of his acolytes committed suicide in the station a year ago as well. Now they’re back, and Jessica has to face them, all by herself.
The idea behind Last Shift isn’t original, but it hasn’t been done to death over the years either. DiBlasi (& co-writer Scott Poiley) invert the siege mentality of Assault On Precinct 13 by having the villains already inside the precinct, not on the outside trying to get in. This creates a sustained level of dread throughout the film. The near abandoned precinct consists of a series of clean, off white hallways that lead to who knows where. This gives a sensation of abandonment to Jessica’s predicament, and while she puts on a brave face, she’s slowly cracking under the pressure. Odd phone calls, a filthy, barefooted homeless man and odd sounds echoing throughout the hallways slowly crank up the tension as Jessica tries to remain in control of her situation.
What Last Shift does better than a lot of bigger budgeted horror films do is generate a really great atmosphere. It’s really spooky and the long empty hallways she’s surrounded by are surprisingly eerie. The film takes its time in generating a pervasive mood of terror that’s quite effective. Additionally, the sound design does a masterful job of making all of the groans, moans & creaks echo all around you. The sounds of the film are pervasive, and slowly dig themselves into your psyche. The makeup FX are reminiscent of the makeup job done on Sam Neill in Event Horizon (1997), and work extremely well here because DiBlasi doesn’t allow the makeup to overwhelm the story. We see Paymon & company in short bursts of terror that get the point across without rubbing our faces into it.
As Harkovy is on screen for the entire running time, her performance either makes or breaks Last Shift. But she gives an outstanding performance here, playing off of the desolation of the precinct perfectly. Her slow disintegration into near madness is tuned to perfection, and I loved the way her very countenance slowly changed as her situation becomes more dire. Mikel gives a convincing performance as the cult leader as well, although he doesn’t have many lines. Actually, Paymon and his two acolytes bear a passing resemblance to Pinhead and his cenobites from Hellraiser (1987). All the other actors give good performances, and make the most of their limited screen time. Director DiBlasi is responsible for films like Dread (2009), Cassadaga (2011), and a segment in The Profane Exhibit (2013), so it pretty much goes without saying that he likes to pour on the red stuff in his films. But he imbues Last Shift with tons of mood to go along with the gore. His camera follows behind Jessica like a companion, but it never gets in the way of the action.
In the end, Last Shift wouldn’t work without the overwhelming sense of doom that insinuates itself into every frame. It almost feels apocalyptic at times, which is pretty amazing since it’s essentially a one woman show. I had never heard of it before I settled in to watch it, and afterwards I immediately wanted to watch it again. I love coming upon little surprises like this, and I think Last Shift is one of the best horror films of the year. It’s a finely tuned scare machine that works on nearly every level.
Last Shift (3.5 / 5)