She's charged with waiting for a Hazmat team to pick up bio-hazardous waste from the station's armory in the wee hours of morning, however unbeknownst to her, a hillbilly cult leader - John Michael Paymon - has haunted the station since the time he and two of this followers committed suicide one year ago to the exact date. It's not long before the weirdness starts; crazy homeless guys, power-outages and unexplained furniture movements.
From there it is a Carpenter-esque, slow-burn pot-boiler, gradually increasing its weirdness and drip-feeding viewers slivers of plot until we have all pieces of the puzzle.
It is ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 meets THE EXORCIST, and it's straight-up unapologetic about it too. But for those that think it might be a mindless cash-grab rehash, let's not forget Carpenter's original was a nod to RIO BRAVO; good artists borrow, great ones steal and all that.
That's not, however, to say DiBlasi is a great director, though he is a competent one. THE LAST SHIFT has the hallmarks of a comfortable filmmaker, who is considered and measured; there is more than one extended take in the film that floats through numerous rooms and hallways, drifting, orientating and disarming us before the bump-in-the-night strangeness escalates.
The first act is essentially Officer Loren in a building devoid of personality and distraction, but DiBlasi is savvy enough to make it interesting and engaging with nifty directorial flourishes (wait for the hair-raising incident in the empty locker-room...).
Nothing in the abandoned station quite works the way it should, helping to create an atmosphere of oppressive dread; pipes creak & groan, lights flicker and faucets leak. It all contributes to a palatable and creeping sense of dread; if the place you're seeking refuge in is barely functioning how safe can it be?
DiBlasi is also wise enough to know the success of the film largely rests on the casting of Officer Loren and he's knocked it out of the ball-park with Juliana Harkavy.
Harkavy is, frankly, ass-kickingly awesome as rookie blue-blood Loren. A tough-as-nails, take-no-shit lass that'll just as quickly taze you as she will call her mum. She's as tough as she is vulnerable and she is, thanks to Harkavy, believable!
Harkavy does well, latching on to that vulnerability and physicality, allowing the viewer to stand beside her as she discovers the horrors that wait for her minute-to-minute.
And that is one of the films strengths - DiBlasi's use of POV. We only ever experience what Loren is dealing with as she discovers it herself. We're never privy to anything one step beyond what we're presented. We're as curious, as frustrated and as scared as Loren, and in the end, we're never quite sure whether the events are actually happening or just in the rookie's head. When the scares come they never go for the gore approach. Instead it's the stuff that'll make your skin crawl and butt pucker. DiBlasi never takes the easy way out, but rather, ratchets up the tension until we can barely take it any more.
Solid stuff, for sure, but it's not without it's problems. While DiBlasi distracts us by wrapping us up in dread and foreboding, if you stop to think about things for longer than a heartbeat, nothing quite fits as well as it should.
For all the creepy shenanigans Loren endures, there's no real threat to her for most of the film. She's never really in any tangible danger. Sure, she's scared and she's confused but if she popped a couple sleeping pills and nodded off for a few hours she'd have probably woken feeling refreshed and as bright as a daisy. On top of that, there's never any real reason why Paymon would be haunting a derelict police station, let alone inflicting his madness on Loren (is it just because she happens to be there? Or does the year anniversary mean something else to him?) causing the kind of insanity he does.
These are small gripes though, particularly when the rest of the film is so much fun.