Select Page

MOVIE REVIEW: “NIGHT SHIFT” Delivers Despite Treading Familiar Ground

Wednesday, April 10, 2024 | Reviews


Starring Phoebe Tonkin, Lamorne Morris, and Madison Hu
Directed by Benjamin China and Paul China
Written by Benjamin China and Paul China
Quiver Distribution 

An isolated motel is a sure-fire setting for unsettling horror, and with the likes of Identity and Vacancy paving the way, NIGHT SHIFT uses that same tried and true premise to deliver one more creepy addition to the litter. Independently financed and budgeted at just $500,000, NIGHT SHIFT may not flaunt the big Hollywood budget or star power of its theatrical counterparts, but it remains an entertaining slasher/paranormal mash-up from sibling filmmakers Benjamin and Paul China (listed as the China Brothers in the credits). 

The unfashionable, middle-of-nowhere All-Tucked Inn Motel has been around for a stretch and is operated by likable manager/owner Teddy (Lamorne Morris), who inherited it from his relatives some years earlier. Rolling into town is Gwen Taylor (Phoebe Tonkin), hoping to escape her dark past and start fresh with her first overnight shift, working at the All-Tucked Inn, relieving Teddy of his exhausting around-the-clock role. After a brief walk-through of the premises, Teddy leaves for the night, and Gwen is given full control. She spends her first few hours stumbling upon some particularly unpleasant discoveries – condoms in the bed sheets, a rodent-filled storage room, and a spooky sinkhole in the pool, among other nasty things. These matters lead to unforeseen complications when some particularly uncanny stuff begins occurring, including bizarre phone calls from unoccupied rooms, the same ominous black vehicle driving by, and ghostly specters haunting the grounds of the battered motel. There’s even a news report announcing that an escaped convict is on the loose in the nearby area. Along with the motel’s only occupant, angst-filled teen Alice (Madison Hu), Gwen attempts to piece together an intricate puzzle of mounting evil before they are consumed by the dark secrets of the All-Tucked Inn. 

Well-produced and directed, NIGHT SHIFT makes the most of a routine plot and delivers as a modest tension-filled chiller with strong performances and a few well-crafted twists and turns. The China Brothers imbue their film with a healthy supply of atmosphere and intrinsic creepiness, productively exploiting their single location to effective potential. From apparitions crawling out of sinkholes to shadowy figures lurking about the motel, it’s all accomplished remarkably well. However, the strongest element of NIGHT SHIFT is its casting. Pheobe Tonkin (Babylon) is wonderfully cast as Gwen, delivering a performance that goes from endearing to unhinged as she attempts to outrun the demons of her past. Gwen is a character of many layers, so when those are peeled back as the film progresses, Tonkin gets to truly dazzle with her portrayal –  particularly in the film’s final act. Equally solid in supporting roles are Lamorne Morris (Bloodshot) and Madison Hu (The Boogeyman), with the former offering up some lighthearted comic relief as the amicable motel owner during the earlier section and the latter effectively standing out as a motel patron who essentially mirrors Gwen’s own troubled life as a teenage runaway, allowing for some convincing exposition between the two. 

Considering that NIGHT SHIFT represents the first directorial offering from the China Brothers (they both scripted Sweet Virginia and Paul directed Crawl), it’s quite an impressive and ambitious debut, and one that will hopefully lead to even greater opportunities for the duo. The script (also credited to the China Brothers) is a bizarre medley of confusing ideas (especially the finale), contrived plotting and creative twists. Still, it manages to keep your interest from start to finish. As mentioned before, the atmosphere is solid, coupled with some impressive make-up and practical effects that elevate NIGHT SHIFT to a higher level. Overall, NIGHT SHIFT may tread familiar territory, but it remains an adeptly executed film with strong performances and great practical effects. It will also make you think twice before stopping off at the next deserted roadside motel you pass on the highway!

Rue Morgue Manor
The Rue Morgue Manor is the Toronto headquarters of Rue Morgue magazine and its brand offshoots.