Breanna Lucci says Night Shift is a layered story that exposes the ugly side of our patriarchal society.
Written and directed by Tennessee filmmakers Greg Swinson and Ryan Thiessen, Night Shift is a gory horror film designed to grow goosebumps on your arms and churn the inside of your stomach. The film stars Natalie Terrazzino, JC Oakley III, Larry Bunton, Philip Zimny, and Trevor Tucker. It centers on misogyny and domestic violence, reading like a mixture of Home Alone (1990), Terrifier (2018), and something all its own.
Karen (Terrazzino) is a mother fighting to keep herself and her young daughter above the waters of single parenthood. She takes the night shift janitorial job at a large furniture factory, where she will be cleaning the building alone. The men are rude, cruel, and downright disrespectful at the start of her first shift. Once everyone leaves for the night, things smooth over as she empties trash cans and sweeps up the wood pulp. Later, a strange man shows up with a package and insists Karen must sign for it. Of many discomforting incidences to come, this is the first that hints at someone lurking in the factory’s dusty shadows. Soon, Karen finds herself surrounded as masked intruders flood her periphery, forcing her to fight for her life.
Thiessen acted as director of photography on the film with a laser focus on the vast warehouse. He introduces us to the story by a backward panning shot of the factory, ensuring every dim aisle and dusty corner is evident to the audience. It’s as if the camera is propped in someone’s back pocket, following them as they make their rounds. This technique intensifies as the story progresses, with handheld shots occupying much of the screen while the camera operator runs alongside Karen. It’s as if the camera team is fleeing the intruders, too.
Naturally, nighttime at a factory is dark, with only the necessary lights bleeding into the empty spaces. Thiessen manipulates this, switching between total darkness where blood-red emergency lights are the only illumination and standard lighting, which somehow feels more dangerous than the former. While some coincidences, like Karen hiding under a folding table as the intruders circle her, somehow completely unaware of her presence, are borderline unbelievable, and some moments are drawn out too long, this film works. The cinematography and David Risdahl’s suspenseful score build this into a delightfully scary experience.
The themes encompassing Night Shift are what truly drew me in. Misogyny coats the factory thicker than a layer of wood pulp, exposing Karen to all its atrocities. Unfounded judgment meets her every interaction with the factory workers, the masked intruders, or the neglectful babysitter watching her sick daughter. While waiting for her trainer to greet her, she’s told to sit by the time clock. This male trainer stomps over, insults her intelligence for sitting in the wrong spot, and criticizes her as he runs through the mindless tasks she will need to complete. Her babysitter makes snide comments about her past due bills and has little regard for her daughter’s fever. The most blatant of all, the masked men fail to hold back gendered insults and personal attacks. The compounding nature of these female-hating grenades sends a strong message.
In a panel conversation at the Chattanooga Film Festival, Thiessen revealed that this film was shot on nights and weekends, making them the literal night crew at this functioning furniture factory. The crew of four full-time cast and crew members worked over six months to craft Night Shift, building the film piece by piece.
Night Shift is a layered story exposing the ugly side of our patriarchal society. Its cinematic elements are notable with regard to its limitations as a low-budget film. While some moments pulled me out of its intensity, watching Karen grow and strengthen both psychically and emotionally as the film progressed was enjoyable.
Night Shift world premiered at the Chattanooga Film Festival on June 28, 2022.