Studio: Magnet Releasing
Director: Anthony DiBlasi
Writer: Anthony DiBlasi, Scott Poiley
Producer: Scott Poiley, Mary Lankford Poiley
Stars: Juliana Harkavy, Joshua Mikel, Hank Stone, J. LaRose, Sarah Sculco, Kathryn Kilger, Natalie Victoria, Mary Lankford
A rookie police officer is haunted by the remnants of a serial killing cult while alone in an abandoned police station.
Maybe expectations were pitched too high after seeing the film appear on multiple “Best of 2015” lists. Maybe its heavy “Assault on Precinct 13” theme coincides with inevitable fatigue for John Carpenter nostalgia, where imitative winks at the horror master’s influence have peaked beyond homage and into oversaturation. Or maybe co-writer/director Anthony DiBlasi’s supernatural serial killer thriller “Last Shift” is simply more flash than fire, and that’s the real reason why it gives off heat without burning a scorching impression.
Rookie cop Jessica Loren’s first night on the job happens to be the last night with the lights on for Sanford PD’s old police station. Operations have transferred to a new facility, but Jessica’s job is to stick around on a graveyard shift, waiting for a hazmat team to remove some sensitive material from evidence.
Left alone in the empty building, Jess is quickly beset by enough “did that just happen?” sights and “what was that?” sounds to fill up a “Paranormal Activity” sequel. Jess isn’t sure if vets might be hazing the newbie or if she could be losing her mind. Eventually, she discovers that her desire for a fresh start in law enforcement is unfortunately tied to her cop father’s death at the hands of a Manson-like murderer. John Michael Paymon’s cult of dangerous devil-worshippers may have splintered after Paymon died in a deadly police encounter, but the cult’s remnants have seemingly returned to conclude unfinished business with Sanford’s police force. That puts Jessica dead center in a satanic superstorm from which there may be no escape.
Its premise of solo heroine versus supernatural spookiness established, “Last Shift” soon ceases to be a story. The screenplay functions instead to set up a series of quiet creeps leading to jumps which, while effectively executed for maximum atmospheric dread, put little substance behind their scares.
Half-hinted at explanations for the station’s strange goings-on include cryptic mentions of conspiratorial cops, a “King of Hell,” and a “what a coincidence” revelation that it is the one-year anniversary of Paymon’s demise. It’s never fully clear what exactly the Paymon Family cult is/was up to, how they plan to accomplish it, or why Jessica is involved other than her familial connection to previous events.
The reason why Jess has to spend the night in a station that should be completely closed anyway is already flimsy. The script isn’t interested in much motivation beyond the basics, and is further content to barf up its limited exposition through a revolving door of inconsequential side characters, some of whom may or may not be figments of Jessica’s imagination.
One place where the film does not lose its legs is in how it puts flesh on Jessica’s fear. As Jess, Juliana Harkavy keeps things moving so well that the script’s thinness can be an unnoticed nonissue for some. Harkavy has a striking screen presence, neither mousey nor overbearing, with the right amount of magnetic moxie to remain engaging even during lulls. Carrying a nearly one-woman show with few opportunities to act against another personality can be a tricky challenge. Yet from the opening dialogue of a phone call with mom to a muttered mantra repeated as a calming technique, there is always a solid sense of who this person is as a character. Realize the rest of the film with similar depth, and there wouldn’t be a conversation about the horror’s relative hollowness.
As is, “Last Shift” sees its 82 minutes occupied by a lot of camera creeps down long hallways as Jess investigates noises, opens doors, peers around corners, and generally struts slowly around the station moving from jump scare to jump scare. Those scares are in turn comprised of the usual tricks and tropes of scarred faces leaping from dark shadows, static-screened televisions, chanting that echoes eerily, etc. Jessica’s ongoing psychological seesaw of tangible terror and horrific hallucinations takes its toll after a time and becomes a tiresome thread to stay interested in.
For supernatural siege in a police station, “Let Us Prey” (review here) has slightly superior entertainment value. Though anyone newly intrigued by filmmaker Anthony DiBlasi, or interested in what he can create when directing a better-developed serial killer story, should put his 2011 Kelen Coleman-starrer “Cassadaga” (review here) into the horror viewing queue.
Review Score: 60