Night Shift movie poster

Night Shift

In theaters March 8, 2024

Rated

,

82 minutes

Directed by:

Starring: , ,

The China Brothers present to the discerning public, Night Shift (2023) which despite all appearances breathes new life into a neglected horror trope.

If you’ve ever traveled the back roads of an out of the way place, either looking for a deal or looking to get away, then you know the thrill (or maybe it’s dread) of finding a roadside motel. As Gwen (Phoebe Tonkin) begins her first Night Shift at the All Tucked Inn, she’s looking to start over, cash under the table, no questions asked.

Only one cabin is occupied, #8 (Madison Hu) and that person is working overtime to remain incognito. A dark sedan drives by slowly without stopping, the front desk receives calls from unoccupied cabins, and the place is infested with rats. Teddy (Lamorne Morris), the motel’s affable owner, assures Gwen that everything is cool and if she keeps busy with chores, like freshening rooms and checking in sporadic guests, the Night Shift should fly by. What he doesn’t tell her is that cabin #13 may be haunted, the rats are ravenous, and late-night check-ins look for quiet out-of-the-way spots for a reason.

Oh, and there’s an escaped serial killer on the loose, so you know, keep an eye out and lock your doors.

Everything about the premise and opening 10 minutes of Night Shift says you’ve seen all of this before but it’s only 82 minutes, so what do you have to lose? The China Brothers, with the very capable acting of Tonkin and Hu in the second act, show us there’s still life in the old tropes. Not a single scene in Night Shift is wasted, carefully stepping past obvious cliches and the easy scare to present a ghost story that feels familiar but manages to surprise in its condensed running time. There’s a careful build to the reveal, which then sets into motion an ending that knows when to slash and when to leave.

Bonus shout out to Conner Price, with an unexpected cameo.

Night Shift doesn’t care if you figure out the who or the why because it’s about the journey, from the layers of dust in #13, to the nostalgia of ancient, if clean bedding, to the quirks of the characters who haunt the grounds. There’s the wary Gwen who knows she’s in a horror movie, the transient Alice running away from her problems, and the supernatural presence that lingers in the periphery, terrifying and deliberate. The humor is casual and delightfully awkward, which makes the jumps and screams authentic. Night Shift is giving Identity (2003) and Vacancy (2007), keeping the dread constant, even as you’re laughing off the absurdity of Yogi the Stuffed Bear or side-eyeing the gurgling sinkhole in the abandoned pool.

I can recommend Night Shift as a starter to lay an even base of anxiety to set the mood or a solid first course to keep the vibe going. The China Brothers are a new-to-me team of writers and directors, and I’m curious to see what they spin next.

Night Shift (2023) is unrated, releasing in select theaters and across VOD platforms, but let’s call it PG-13 for swears, blood, brief kinky sexytimes, disturbing ghosts, rats, people getting stabbed, axed, and slashed, and an offscreen glossectomy.

Night Shift is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: MontiLee Stormer
MontiLee Stormer is a writer of horror, dark and urban fantasy. She’s also is a troublemaker, concocting acts of mayhem and despair for her own selfish pleasure. An avid movie watcher, she prefers horror but will see just about anything if you're buying. Poltergeist (1982) is her favorite movie and she actively hates The Shining (1980) due to its racism, misogyny, the butchering of the source material. She could host a TEDtalk on this single subject. Writing about herself in the third person is just a bonus.

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