Jessica Loren is new on the job; her first shift is the last shift of a closing, empty station. As her shift rolls on, odd things start happening and she can’t tell if they are real, imagined, or just a prank.
Written by Anthony DiBlasi and Scott Poiley, with DiBlasi directing, Last Shift is a suspense entry its genre. The best way to watch it being without knowing too much about it, the less said the better, to keep the surprises as powerful as they can be. The film starts slowly, with some scares here and there but nothing very strong until about the middle of the film when things crank up slowly until they go to eleven. The film takes its time to build its story and its scares and keeps things fairly simple, creating a story of fear based on the senses more than on clear images and direct storytelling. The fact that the film works on the audio side first and then on the visual side of things helps it build an atmosphere filled with suspense and dread. The way it builds things works great here, playing with viewer along with the heroine.
This lead is played by Julianna Harkavy, who carries the majority of the film on her shoulders. She does fantastic work here, showing strength and courage while also showing vulnerability and a very human side. She shows emotions when needed and strength when it’s called for. She is scared but determined to make it through the night, along with the viewer who is determined to watch the entire film to see where it goes. She is the main character and everything revolves around her, so thankfully, her performance is one more than worth watching. The supporting cast is composed of a variety of people giving good performances, including Joshua Mikel giving a twisted, demented man in a just crazy enough way. He’s dangerous, but almost personable; qualities when put together make characters like his work great on screen. The rest of the cast works their angles in ways that add to the fear and suspense, some of them in more visceral ways than others.
Helping these performances are special effects done under special effects coordinator Jeremy S. Brock and visual effects done under visual effects supervisor Jason Murphy. These work together in a way that creates uncertainty in some scenes and very clear horrors in others. The effects in Last Shift look realistic and show how cgi can enhance a film’s special effects and add a layer to the story that would not be there otherwise.
Also adding to the acting, story and effects is the sound design by Lee Riley. The sound here is extremely important, adding things that may or may not be there to scenes, layers of almost subconscious fear. The sounds in this film are oftentimes subtle and paired with visuals that might not match, creating confusion which adds to the fear factor and to the suspense. What is seen and heard cannot be trusted at times, something that is a very effective device in horror. The score by Adam Barber supports this and the story in a way that is not necessarily obvious, something that shows mastering of the art.
Back on the visual side of things, the cinematography by Austin F. Schmidt is deliberate and uses the location to its maximum potential. The film takes place entirely in an empty police station and the long white corridors and locking cells, along with the empty spaces and shelves are shown in an almost threatening way. Schmidt’s work gives the film a simple look that helps the fear creep up on the viewer.
Last Shift is a film that got a lot of hype when it was originally released as a truly scary film and it is. It’s one of those for which the hype is worrisome given how that usually goes, but it should be given a chance. It’s best watched in a silent place, with the sound way up to get the full effect of its careful sound design and let the dread creep up. The film builds up a suspense that turns into fear and uses practical and visual effects to great results. The lead is fantastic in her part and the rest of the cast creepy and weird at times. Last Shift is one of those films that works on many levels and builds its effect through careful planning and talented execution.