★★★★☆

In Brea Grant’s ghoulish US healthcare farce, 12 Hour Shift, a junkie nurse and her accomplices run a body parts scam for the local mob, only for their secretive operation to come crashing down, when an unreliable courier enters the fray.  

Mandy (Angela Bettis) works long hours at the local hospital, somewhere in Arkansas. She’s a perma-frazzled pill-popper and an angel of death, a “Harriet Shipman” if you will. Injecting dying patients with bleach and then cutting out their organs post-mortem, to sell on the black market, Mandy and select staff have a good thing going, all very hush-hush, the authorities haven’t got a clue. Then one day, in walks a hurricane named Regina (Chloe Farnworth), a ditzy blonde new to the job, who almost immediately threatens the whole setup.

Briskly paced and edited, Grant’s dark bloody comedy benefits from just the right tone. It never goes truly over the top and silly, even when the plot turns Mandy’s night shift into a gauntlet of never-ending bullshit. Bullshit caused by other people who lack professionalism and discretion. Bettis, much loved by genre fans, is superb as the unruffled but super-stressed killer nurse, but it’s Farnworth who steals the show as Regina, a smiling yokel whose constant mistakes take increasingly deadly turns. That Regina manages to be endearingly bad at her assigned gig as a courier and a raging psychopath delivers most of the film’s blackly comic laughs. If you employ a clown, you can expect a circus, right?

Entertaining from start to finish and wonderfully played by a largely female cast, David Arquette has a small role as an escaped convict, Grant’s film beautifully upends the sexist notion that women are naturally inclined to nurture. It surprises, too, as a tribute to the fortitude of working-class women. 12 Hour Shift also shows us an America where the burden of schlepping long hours for a pittance leaves the workforce having to find other, more creative, ways to make money and make a living (second jobs in America are second nature, a means of survival).

Healthcare is such a hot button topic in the US with one side fearing and spreading propaganda about socialised medicine and the other side fighting hard to make sure all Americans receive decent healthcare. In this context, Grant’s screenplay allows her to express a range of serious points in the guise of a satirical nightmare.

FrightFest runs from 28-31 August. Tickets are available at frightfest.co.uk.

Martyn Conterio | @martynconterio