While not all of director Anthony DiBlasi’s work lands quite like I’d hope, one thing that always works in his favour is his continual refusal to be pigeonholed. Whether it be the dark, simmering religious slow-burn Missionary, the 90s-tinged slasher Most Likely to Die or the unremitting bleakness of Dread, his ability to continually defy convention is refreshing, even if the films don’t always connect. In 2015, he threw another curveball with The Last Shift, an intensely claustrophobic and genuinely terrifying blurring of illusion and reality set within the confines of a police station on the brink of closure.
Officer Jessica Loren (Juliana Harkavy, Dolphin Tale, The Walking Dead) is the unlucky officer drafted in to work security on the facility overnight before some sensitive evidence is collected in the morning by a HAZMAT team. The station itself is not an inherently creepy location – all strip-lights and offices, it’s bland and practically over-lit, giving DiBlasi scant room to phone in lazy jump moments. As Jessica is left to her own devices and the film shifts gears into its main story build, the scares come thick and fast, and from all angles. Strange figures appear and disappear (some only spotted by the viewer), Jessica is plagued with phonecalls by a young woman in apparent distress, and hints are broadly made towards a Manson-family style mass murder that may have resulted in Jessica’s father – a policeman himself – losing his life. Anchoring the imagery is a homeless man who at first appears as what seems to be slight comic relief, but whose presence becomes a grim harbinger of Jessica’s long night’s descent into chaos.
The Last Shift succeeds so richly as a horror film because of the many levels at which it shows its capacity to unsettle. Jessica’s backstory is introduced enough to foster a connection between herself and the audience at a level beyond the superficial, and the film’s deftness at leaving you to figure out if what’s happening truly is a product of paranormal phenomenon or Jessica’s ever-eroding psyche leaves much of what happens mired in a disorientating and knowing uncertainty. Beyond that, the scares themselves are uniformly effective and sometimes ingenious, and with a final act that delivers both unpredictable plot twists and a host of terrifying imagery, The Last Shift should be remembered as one of the scariest films of the last few years.