‘Night Shift’ Review: Well-Worn Tropes and A Cheap Twist

Night Shift

Making a movie is hard work. There are so many moving parts that must come together to ensure a film is successful. One of the most crucial elements is a good script. Even a gifted director and a supremely talented cast can’t overcome a bad screenplay. Night Shift serves as proof that a poorly written script can be a picture’s undoing. The performances here are serviceable enough and the direction is somewhat effective in the feature’s earlier moments. But the script is simply not at the level it needs to be. The proceedings hinge on a twist that is equal parts preposterous and unoriginal. As such, Night Shift eventually falls to pieces.

Night Shift catches up with Gwen (Phoebe Tonkin) as she reports for her first day at the All Tucked Inn motel. Her new boss, Teddy (Lamorne Morris), gives Gwen a tour of the dilapidated facility and then turns her loose for her inaugural shift. But wait, there are spooky ghosts onsite, not to mention a killer may also be on the loose. On no. Will Gwen survive the night or end up victimized by some form of fresh hell? 

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The first 30 minutes of Night Shift had me cautiously optimistic. The performances aren’t bad, especially for a low-budget indie; and the film establishes a certain level of atmosphere throughout the first act. But that only goes so far. 45 minutes in, we know almost nothing about the antagonist(s). We get a couple of brief glimpses of ghosts. But nothing is firmly established at that stage. In fact, there’s no information given on the identity of said ghosts until the denouement. The only context we are given by the midway point is that the motel has a reputation for being haunted. 

After meandering for about 60 minutes, the picture establishes that Gwen is the sole survivor of a brutal home invasion that claimed the lives of several family members. From there, we learn that the perpetrator was confined to an institution but recently escaped captivity. Naturally, said perpetrator shows up at the motel, where Gwen is already dealing with ghostly creatures of unknown origin. One or the other would have been plenty. But to introduce a killer from her past after establishing that the premises are haunted by ghastly apparitions feels very much like overkill.

The ghosts and the killer do tie together in the end. But I can’t go into further detail on exactly how without spoiling the twist. Suffice it to say, the way the respective elements eventually align is less than satisfying. Moreover, the twist that connects the ghosts and the escaped mental patient has been used time and time again by far better films. I prefer a straightforward narrative approach that serves up a few good thrills and chills to a twist that ultimately falls flat. 

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The screenplay here aims to be clever and unexpected but rarely manages to be either. The China Brothers (Benjamin and Paul) who cowrite and codirect the film are clearly horror fans. But their screenplay appears to be primarily inspired by the likes of VacancyLast ShiftHigh TensionThe Shining, and Psycho. Sadly, Night Shift doesn’t execute on the level of any of the aforementioned titles. 

At this stage in the game, almost every screenwriter is inspired by an earlier work. So, I would never criticize solely on that basis. But almost every aspect of the narrative here has been done more successfully by many other features. It’s natural to take inspiration from films that made an impact on you. But to be truly effective, a screenwriter must build upon what we’ve seen before and then do something new, different, or unexpected to stand out from the crowd. Night Shift doesn’t do anything meaningful to differentiate itself and therefore feels a lot like a rehash of superior films. 

All in all, Night Shift isn’t a total bust. The first act features a couple of intense exchanges and the performances are fairly serviceable for the most part. However, the lack of a coherent screenplay and consistent adherence to well-worn tropes keep the proceedings from being truly effective.

If you’re interested in checking the film out, Night Shift is available in select theaters and on VOD now. 

  • ‘Night Shift'


’Night Shift’ is too derivative to entertain on a meaningful level.

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