There are certain scenarios which occur time and again in horror, the same basic structures of fear which, when well done, remain effective because they are universal in their connection with audiences: isolation, claustrophobia, the dark, betrayal, violence.
It’s the first night on the job for Officer Jessica Loren (The Walking Dead’s Juliana Harkavy), just graduated from the academy, and her supervising officer, Sergeant Cohen (Hank Stone), is in a pissy mood even as she walks in the door. At least the night should be quiet, all 911 calls being routed to the new station while she takes the last shift in the old, waiting alone for a hazmat team to arrive on site to dispose of materials before the site is shut down permanently.
When the phone rings, she automatically picks up; a young woman on the line, saying she is being held hostage, that there were others with her – “I think they might all be dead.” She tries to trace the call, but to no avail, and the dispatcher at the main station confirms that calls are coming through to them, so Jessica should not have received anything.
She finds a vagrant wandering the halls; forced to place him in a holding cell she finds herself locked in as well. Freeing herself, she hears noise and finds Marigold (Natalie Victoria) who tells Jessica of the Paymon gang, the girls they slaughtered, the infamous bust where Jessica’s own father died. The official record states the Paymons died at the scene of their own crimes, but Marigold says they were taken alive but hanged themselves with the bedsheets in their cells, a year to the day in that very same police station…
“Pure evil comes off these walls,” she is warned, but directed by Cassadaga’s Anthony DiBlasi from a script co-written with frequent collaborator Scott Poiley, Last Shift feels like nothing so much as a darkened episode of The Twilight Zone stretched out of shape, a product of the filmmaking school of objects going bump with nothing original or innovative to offer.
While a haunted police station makes a change from a haunted house or the old standby of getting lost in the woods at night, the situation is underdeveloped other than the creepiness of the cell scenes, the sole character the audience has to latch onto experiencing a total removal of control over her own situation and safety.
Though the film is competent, Harkavy is personable and believable and Joshua Mikel, soon to be seen in Cell, does his best as demonic patriarch and self-proclaimed “Kind of Hell” John Michael Paymon (why do homicidal cultist types need always three names? Should we look on John Wayne Gacy, Lee Harvey Oswald and their ilk as trendsetters?) the film has too little to set itself apart from the herd.
With no scene complete without a slamming door, the Paymons are a generic family of crazies who love the sound of their own voices as they talk about clipped-wing angels and slaughtering pigs, but it’s an endurance test as much for the audience as it is for Jessica Loren, an officer whose marksmanship is so poor she couldn’t hit a barn door, and it is a blessing when this last shift is over.
Having premiered at FrightFest in October 2014 under the title Paymon: The King of Hell, Last Shift is available on DVD now