Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #652
Number of Views: One
Release Date: October 25, 2014
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 87 minutes
Director: Anthony DiBlasi
Producers: Scott Poiley, Mary Poiley
Screenplay: Anthony DiBlasi, Scott Poiley
Special Effects: Lee Grimes
Visual Effects: Jason Murphy
Cinematography: Austin Schmidt
Score: Adam Barber
Editing: Anthony DiBlasi
Studio: Skyra Entertainment
Distributor: Magnet Releasing
Stars: Juliana Harkavy, Joshua Mikel, J. LaRose, Mary Lankford, Natalie Victoria, Sarah Sculco, Kathryn Kilger, Mary Lankford, Matt Doman, Hank Stone
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Meghan Toohey “Father, I Have Come for You”
 Adam Barber “Last Shift”
There are few prospects as daunting as the first shift on a new job. Desperate to make a lasting impression, we turn up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, usually without the vaguest idea of what we are doing or what is expected of us. If we’re lucky, there is somebody on-hand to show us the ropes, point out any dos or don’ts, and assist us in hitting the ground running. However, nobody wishes to get saddled with the new guy/gal when there are other more important jobs to be done and this can lead any fresh recruits to feeling like outsiders looking in while they attempt to figure out their place with precious little help or sympathy for their plight. It’s safety in numbers folks and, should we be thrown to the wolves with enough pelts to glance, then perhaps we can settle into some kind of workable rhythm without too much disruption or incident. They call it the deep end for a reason but it’s far less ominous a prospect when there are others present to tread water with.
Alas for rookie police officer Jessica Loren (Juliana Harkavy: The Walking Dead), support is at an absolute minimum for her first assignment as she turns up at a station house which is soon to be permanently closed. On reporting for duty, she meets commanding officer, Sgt. Cohen (Hank Stone), who is hardly what you would call welcoming and downright standoffish would be more accurate. After a brief tour where he appears totally disinterested in pandering to her teething, the sarge explains to Jessica that her sole job is to guard the building until which time as a Hazmat team arrives to remove any bio-hazard materials. With any 911 calls re-routed to a new station and Cohen referring to her vacant outpost as “the mausoleum”, it would appear that she has landed herself one helluva cushy gig right? I mean, what could possibly go wrong?
From the moment she is left to her own devices, one thing becomes abundantly clear about our enthusiastic tenderfoot. Jessica is no shrinking violet and has evidently paid great attention at the academy when earning her beginner’s stripes. Pragmatic and level-headed, she is also deeply committed to her job and keen to make the very best impression on her superiors. Moreover, she comes from decidedly good stock as her own father, now deceased, was an officer at this very station and well-respected by his peers. You could say she’s a chip off the old block thus, when strange occurrences start to play out, she applies logic and flat refuses to let her mind run away with her. That said, there’s enough of a hint of vulnerability for us to warm to Jessica and she cuts a sympathetic figure as she recites her oath nervously after one of many unsettling early incidents.
These include the repeated appearance of a mysterious vagrant (J. LaRose) who first relinquishes his bladder in reception and, after being sternly warned and ushered out of the building, re-enters the station via the rear fire exit to further add to her fast-growing headache. She also receives a number of distressed calls from a young lady who appears to be in danger, while her surroundings do their level best to bamboozle her at every turn. Aside from the customary creaks and groans, lockers open of their own free will, the electricity cuts out when it so wishes, and her eyes increasingly play tricks with her as those steely nerves begin to fray.
However, while very much left to her own devices, she receives a number of key visitations including Officer Price (Matt Doman) who turns up unannounced to check on her. At first she suspects this is part of some kind of cruel hazing ritual at her expense but it turns out that Price was present on the night her father died. Suddenly it starts to dawn on Jessica that the events may well have something to do with murderous occultist John Michael Paymon and his hellish cohort who, contrary to the police report released, actually hanged themselves in this very building. With paranormal activity now waiting to play out at every turn, she begins to question her sanity.
Last Shift has a number of strengths at its disposal. Director of photography Austin Schmidt does a marvellous job of making the eerily fluorescent station house feel insular and unwelcoming, keeping the lead constantly in frame and remaining tight to her shoulder through every tentative step which, in turn, seldom allows us to settle as we find ourselves glancing into each of the multiple darkened recesses anticipating the next jolt. However, for as much as DiBlasi uses a number of familiar tropes to affect his audience, he generally resists the urge to go for the obvious and doesn’t allow the camera to linger too long on the monstrosities lurking in the shadows.
Harkavy is a revelation as the beleaguered cop and anchors the film effortlessly, striking the balance between tough nut to crack and damsel in distress without once fumbling the baton. Should she have failed to sell her character, then all of the director’s hard work would have ultimately been rendered null and void, but she presents a believable, and more critically, eminently likeable heroine which keeps us rooting for her as the story twists and turns towards its canny conclusion. If there is a weakness to be found, then perhaps Last Shift plays its mischievous mind games for a tad too long, but it’s hard to argue that point when the lion’s share of the scares on offer are so masterfully implemented. Meanwhile, whoever came up with the tacky cover art got it all wrong, as it cheapens what is effectively a very smart, well constructed, and solid single location chiller. As far as first nights on the job go, this one really is a fair cop.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Dread Factor: 3/5
For the Dread-Heads: With a lean 87-minute running time, Last Shift can’t be accused to outstaying its welcome, unlike its tormented lead. DiBlasi uses audio and lighting to elicit many of its most significant scares, but also isn’t afraid to introduce all manner of grotesquery, some of which calls to mind the likes of Silent Hill. While I’ve long since been numbed to the kind of visual persuasion on exhibit here, the manner in which it plays out feels refreshing and there’s more than sufficient here to encourage the less hardened amongst us to sleep with one eye open.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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