Monday, August 28, 2017

"Make Time Go By Just a Little Faster" - The Night Shift (2017)

We do not consider many recent films here at Senseless Cinema, but sometimes exceptions must be made. The 2016 film The Night Shift is such a case, primarily because of its provenance as a film directed by Massimiliano Cerchi, a filmmaker who may or may not have been involved in both The Mummy Theme Park (2000) and Creatures from the Abyss (1994). In fact, this film's first credit, even before the title, is "Directed by Massimiliano Cerchi" over a beautiful helicopter shot of a car driving through a village surrounded by snowy mountains. (The title appears soon after, in a fetching red Papyrus font, as seen in the graphic above.)

But enough about directors and title fonts. What do your universe's fine (and I use that term advisedly) critics think of The Night Shift? On IMDB, reviewer leofwine_draca writes, "it's just too slow to be a successful movie." Cmello-16172 writes, "Extremely low quality - with no evidence of a budget to speak of. The real 'horror' here is that this film was actually produced and furnished to the public. Viewer beware!"

I could not find any other reviews of this film, so let us move on to describe the wonders of its intricate plot.

Please forgive this interruption, but I must interject something within my own review that has very little to do with The Night Shift, to which subject I will return shortly. I must make you aware of facts that are crucial to the history and future of cinema itself. As you probably know, I hail from Universe-Prime, though I am at present living in your backward Universe-X and trying my best to help your universe appreciate the cinematic gems that many of your critics revile.

What you do not know is this: In my universe, I was tasked with the secret mission of recovering lost films from the Universal Cinema Archive. At home, I serve as a cinema archivist (certainly one of the most respected and high-level professions in the universe, and definitely not a profession that is the butt of any jokes whatsoever). When I was initiated into the second level of the archivists' guild, I was assigned to find a series of classic films that had disappeared without a trace. Through procedures too complex to describe here, I managed to discover that these classics had been intentionally misappropriated and sent to another, more primitive, dimension. When I became aware of a means to travel to this universe--a means known as The Quirk, which I will describe to you at a later time--I had no choice but to follow the films here, to Universe-X.

Once in Universe-X, I was appalled that these films from Universe-Prime were not given their due respect, so I did the only thing I could: I started a blog to defend them, while waiting to recover them in digital or physical form and bring them back to my universe. For now, I am physically trapped in Universe-X, but I am awaiting my opportunity to return.

Recently, I have discovered hints that the agents responsible for removing all traces of these classic films from my universe may be here in Universe-X, and there is the possibility that I may be in mortal danger. Really!

That is all I can say at this time, but I will update you further as soon as it is safe to do so. Again, I apologize for the interruption, and I now return you to your regularly scheduled review of Massimiliano Cerchi's The Night Shift...

The story begins as a security guard--who resembles by turns Vince Vaughn and Matt LeBlanc--is dropped off at a house. The driver leaves even before the guard gets into the house, an unfortunate turn of events because the front door is locked.

But then the door clicks and mysteriously unlocks itself.

Instead of immediately running away and calling the driver to pick him up, the security guard enters the house.

The interior of the house resembles nothing so much as a movie set depicting the interior of a house. It is unusual, however, in the fact that the kitchen has two refrigerators separated by a marble peninsula.

The suspense begins almost immediately when the guard hears a woman's voice say, "Frank." He investigates the property, gun and flashlight drawn.

The investigation of the house serves at least three purposes. One, it allows the audience to see the environment the guard will be protecting. Two, it shows off some effective prowling camerawork. And three, it fills up approximately 15% of the film's running time...with suspense.

The woman's voice says "Frank" again. It is a mark of the film's commitment to realism that we do not yet know if the security guard's name is Frank--but this mystery is soon expelled when the guard gets a phone call from his boss, who calls him Frank.

It seems Frank is being paid extra to guard the house tonight because neighbor kids tend to cause problems. Though Frank intends to simply sleep in the owner's bed, his boss tells him he must stay awake all night to protect the house.

After he gets off the phone, Frank hears another noise. "I'm going nuts," he says to himself.

The landline rings again, and Frank speaks to the house's owner, Bill. Bill is making sure Frank was instructed correctly by his supervisor what to do. Frank says, "He told me I'm going to be watching your house until sometime tomorrow morning."

"Eight o'clock exactly," says Bill. "Any mention that there'll be no sleeping at all?"

"He told me under no circumstances at all am I allowed to fall asleep," says Frank.

Clearly, something sinister will occur either if Frank falls asleep or if he stays awake.

Frank adds, "I just wish I could have brought my girlfriend with me. Make time go by just a little faster. If you know what I mean."

Bill responds suspiciously: "But then you'd be useless to me." Then he tells Frank not to go in the maid's room.

While a lesser man might, again, turn and run away after this exchange, Frank thinks nothing of it and continues guarding the house. This involves attempting to watch TV, though there is no signal.

With no TV to watch, Frank falls asleep almost immediately in a chair.

The lights flicker and for an instant we see a robed silhouette standing next to Frank, but then it is gone.

The film reveals itself as a formal exercise, as Frank repeats the pattern again and again: investigating a strange noise, hearing the phone ring, taking a phone call, falling asleep on the couch, saying he is going insane.

After much repetition, the TV comes on and shows a devilish figure, though the filmmakers keep the image in the far corner of the frame so it is difficult to make out.

Instead of scaring Frank further, he simply turns the TV off and leaves the room.

The suspense ramps up when we see someone in a highly creative robed skeleton costume appear behind Frank for an instant, then vanish.

Frank takes this manifestation as an excuse to patrol the house again with his gun and flashlight. "I can do this shit all night long," he informs the house.

Next, he responds to a knock on the door, letting inside a woman named Carrie who says she is the daughter of the owner of the house. She explains that she left the house ("escaped," as she puts it), drove away, and then ended up driving back to the house. He tells her she looks like his girlfriend.

Then they start kissing on the couch.

The filmmakers insert a sex scene in the bedroom in which  Carrie continually slaps Frank's face. (The slapping is never remarked upon.)

After Carrie leaves the bedroom, there is  another phone call. Shockingly, Bill tells Frank that his daughter died six years ago!

Somewhere else, something called The Master tells its followers, "It's time to feed off this man's fear." Then it laughs, chillingly, like a department store Santa Claus.

Frank finally decides it is time to get out of the house, but he finds all the exits blocked by robed followers. He can only barricade himself in a closet. Carrie appears outside the door to taunt him. Her master appears behind her.

In the thrilling climax, Frank runs back and forth between the front and back doors of the house, but he is unable to get out. The Master and Carrie come for him.

In the inevitable coma, The Master tells Frank he is part of the family now.  "Find peace in hell, Frank."

Then The Master laughs that chilling laugh of a department store Santa before Frank screams and the screen fades to black.

One might consider this a lower budget sequel to Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966), with the security guard stumbling upon The Master's latest dwelling. Based on the luxury mansion that is the setting of The Night Shift, The Master has been moving up in the world since 1966. However, The Master appears to have lost his Torgo, and only one of his undead brides remains, so his situation is arguably worse than it was 50 years earlier.

In any case, The Night Shift--not to be confused with Night Shift (1982) or Night Shift (2001) or the TV series The Night Shift--is a minimalist exercise in suspense anchored by a bravura central performance by Vincent Rivera as Frank. The film is only 63 minutes long, and Mr. Rivera appears in just about every second. Whether wandering through the house from the front door to the back bedrooms, or wandering through the house from the back bedrooms to the front door, or answering a telephone, Mr. Rivera keeps the audience riveted to whatever he is doing.

By the end of the film, some mysteries are dispelled. We realize that the job has been a trap to sacrifice Frank and bring him into The Master's family. We realize that the house's owner, Bill, is probably in on the trap and is probably also part of The Master's family.

The one big mystery that remains is why the house has two refrigerators of similar models in the kitchen. That this question remains unaddressed is perhaps the most horrifying aspect of the minimalist classic The Night Shift.