Night Shift Image

Night Shift

By Michael Talbot-Haynes | April 29, 2024

NOW ON VOD! If movies like The Shining have you hankering for a hunk of haunted hotels, you will want to check out the strong, sinister feature debut Night Shift, written and directed by brothers Benjamin China and Paul China. Gwen Taylor (Phoebe Tonkin) drives out at night to The All-Tucked Inn, a retro motel in the middle of nowhere. She reports for duty to the motel owner, Teddy Miles (Lamorne Morris), as she has accepted a fill-in gig manning the front desk overnight.

Teddy shows her around the modest property, including the empty pool that a sinkhole drained all the water out of. Gwen is uneasy about the lack of security, but Teddy reassures her everything should be fine. Right when she hears the sounds of rats, Teddy splits, leaving her money for Vietnamese takeout later. Gwen checks in on the single guest staying over, knocking on the room door of Alice Marsh (Madison Wu). Alice stares back at Gwen sullenly through the cracked open door and shuts it, her fingers covered with mysterious red stains. As the night wears on, Gwen begins to hear and see things. The front desk bell will ring, and no one will be there. She sees figures walking into rooms, which she then finds empty. Then she finds out the rooms aren’t so empty after all, as she begins to see really horrible things…

“Then she finds out the rooms aren’t so empty after all, as she begins to see really horrible things…”

As haunted hotel movies go, this is a first-class blood-bathing beauty. What is so nice about this concept in horror is the hotel is a haunted house multiplied by each room, with a possible different haunt in each. It also gets kinkier than most haunted houses due to what is usually done in hotels besides sleep. Okay, technically, this is a motel, but that is the same thing these days. The China Brothers immediately strike a nerve with an appreciation of the aesthetic of retro motels. Relics of mythological midcentury Americana abound, including the awesomely ticker-tack neon sign. The allusions to master directors start early, with the stuffed animals in the lobby harkening back to Hitchcock’s Psycho. They also employ highly stylized lighting design that carefully looks natural, natural for a haunted motor lodge, that is. The directors even manage to make the courtyard and towel room look horrifying. There are many subtle touches that build a foundation for the bloody crescendos to spout from. The China Brothers seem to solve the debate between loud and quiet horror by wisely delivering plenty of both.

Hitchcock references aside, it is Night Shift visits to David Lynch’s magic toolbox of terrors that will scare your panties inside out. Lynch’s film work, particularly his 90s output, was scarier than what was found in horror pictures at the time. So, it is quite clever to do some variations of his creepier techniques. The China brothers do a play on one of the master’s most horrifying spins: the phone sequence from Lost Highway. The way that simple yet devastating trick transfers to a motel switchboard borders on smoldering genius. There is an “ear in the grass” from Blue Velvet sort of feel as well with the mysterious swimming pool sinkhole. Another special Lynchian touch is the grand slam performance by the great Patrick Fischler from the famous diner scene in Mulholland Drive. His turn as Warner, the insanely rude drunken guest, has some of the most hilarious and horrifying dialogue delivery in the movie. The China Brothers have a great start out of the grisly gate here. Night Shift is an impeccably crafted, clever ghost infestation that has a lot going on under the sheets.

Night Shift (2024)

Directed and Written: Benjamin China, Paul China

Starring: Phoebe Tonkin, Lamorne Morris, Madison Wu, etc.

Movie score: 8.5/10

Night Shift Image

"…will scare your panties inside out."

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