A Brief Review of Last Shift (2014)

It is so rare when a horror movie gets to me these days that I have to acknowledge one that does. I watched Last Shift (2014) for the first time recently, and I found it much better than I expected it to be. I can dispense with the part that got to me quickly because it was all about the surround sound effects. Surprisingly few horror films are this effective with placing sounds behind the viewer. There were two moments that freaked me out due to the sound placement, and this was a pleasant surprise. Both made me jump, but this was different from the standard jump scare nonsense because both had me looking behind me for more than a second, and one actually got me out of the chair.

Besides the sound effects, there were two big positives that stood out to me about the Last Shift. First, it was a good example of how effective minimalist horror can be. The whole thing was shot in one location, an about-to-be-abandoned police station, and with a small cast. The lead actress carried the film and was virtually the only character for much of it. I almost always appreciate films like this because their stripped down approach often lets other aspects shine. That was the case here, and I thought the female lead was great in this role. Second, Last Shift was just different enough to be interesting. I can't claim the story was completely original or even close to it, but that probably isn't fair to expect from modern horror. I was satisfied with the somewhat different spin they put on a familiar story.

The opening scenes introduce us to a rookie police officer who shows up on her first day to discover that she has been assigned to work the last shift at an old police station that is about to be shut-down. All operations have already been transferred to the new station, but she needs to staff the old station for that final shift...all by herself. And of course, nothing is what it seems. The old station does not seem inherently creepy at the beginning of the film, except that it isn't clear that she's really alone there. The filmmakers quickly go about making the station more than creepy enough, and fans of haunted house films will probably appreciate it. Much of the success of the film depends on the audience caring about the officer and putting themselves in her shoes. This worked well, as the actress did a great job showing her inner conflicts. There were some of those "why doesn't she just..." moments that drive horror fans crazy, but I thought the film did a better job than many of at least trying to offer explanations.

The film had a few flaws, and I found the ending to be the biggest let down. I'm sure it was supposed to be a surprise that would have audiences talking, but it was so easy to see coming that this horror fan guessed exactly what was going to happen long before it started. Still, it wasn't bad enough to make me regret watching the film like many bad endings do. In fact, I enjoyed it enough that I'd watch it again.

Every time I see a film like Last Shift, I find myself thinking about how impressive it is when skilled horror directors manage to do so much with so little. A small cast, meager special effects budget, and limited locations do not have to doom a film. That a film like Last Shift can manage to be so much better than many big budget horror films ought to embarrass whoever is behind those films. I'll wrap-up much as I started, with a tip of the hat to horror filmmakers who know how to use surround sound effects to their advantage.

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