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Nightshifter, The

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 05/31/19 22:00:40

"Even dead drug dealers tend to be trouble."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL 21: I suppose that once a person finds out that they can converse with corpses, their career is pretty much set - it would be a heck of a waste to be able to do that and work anywhere but the city morgue. From there, it's a matter of whether you think you're on an American TV show or not - if you are, the obvious next step is to start solving murders; otherwise, you may wind up on the sort of path Stênio does here, which is more nastily entertaining than the procedural approach.

There's enough crime in Sao Paolo that Stênio (Daniel de Oliveira) will find himself conversing with people who died in pretty gnarly fashion, and not only is it taking its toll, but the job doesn't even pay enough for a beer at the local cafe after work. It's making things strained with wife Odete (Fabiula Nascimento), and when he finds out that she is having an affair with Jaime (Marco Ricca), the cafe's owner, it's enough for him to finally make some use of his ability, using what he learned from a dead gangster to convincing his boss that Jaime got the man killed, counting on them to exact his revenge. It seems like a slick plan, but it turns out that telling the dead's secrets marks a sman, and soon gangsters who realize that the tale doesn't quite add up may be the least of Stênio's problems.

Stênio brings a lot of what's coming upon himself - he is not some stupid teenager messing around with things he's got no reason to expect are actually dangerous - and the filmmakers do a nifty job of offering no excuses while still giving the audience reason to care beyond just how the blowback from his actions may hit the decent people around him, whether his kids or Jaime's daughter Lara (Bianca Comparato). Everyone in this movie is stressed or frustrated in some way, and when Stênio crosses that line to make Jaime a target, the audience recoils, but can recognize the desire to lash out at that point. Stênio is not exactly a good person who has a moment of weakness - his bickering with Odete is petty on both sides and he's as selfish as anyone else - but he hasn't exactly been looking for an excuse. He's just too close to the darkness.

It's when the film is closest to that darkness that it's at its best. It would take an early but relatively slight change of direction for this to be a film where the supernatural is all in Stênio's head, but director/co-writer Dennison Ramalho does a nice job of coming at things from the same sort of emotional place, making sure that the conversations with the dead are no escapist fantasy. There's no release for the dead; they are instead trapped trapped in the moment when they know they're bleeding out and no further help can come. At least, it's that way for the ones in the morgue; the ones seeking revenge are no longer tethered to their body and as such no longer have a brain to think or reason with, and Ramalho presents both of those as a horrifying loss of autonomy in some ways worse than simply ceasing to exist. Meanwhile, the gangsters are just as grimly implacable, their violence carefully considered if still coming from the same sort of rage.

Ramalho proves a bit better at getting Stênio into trouble than through it; ghost stories should probably not feel too bound to any sort of rules, but there's a bit of a sense that Ramalho (or maybe original novelist Marco de Castro) started with the dead being eerie but passive and started winging it when they needed actual stuff of consequence to happen to Stênio. The ghosts' revenge is not exactly subtle, which is fine, but the film doesn't leave itself a particularly interesting route for Stênio to take - he's never really clever enough to set things in motion again, as opposed to running or begging for forgiveness, and he's also been shown to dislike his gift, so there's not a lot of heft to him being told that the dead will no longer confide in him, as he was never actually working that before. There are too-convenient side characters pulled away when this convenience suddenly becomes a problem.

Sometimes a horror movie just needs the quality atmosphere that this film has in abundance, especially if it can push the right buttons when the viewer is just starting to get fidgety (for instance, I may have added half a star because I do like a good crawl out of a grave). It's creepy when it needs to be, and gets past the rest quickly enough.

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