Yam Laranas is a Filipino director and cinematographer whose specialty lay in horror films. He will be remembered for "Sigaw" ((2004), which was actually picked up by Hollywood for an American remake, "The Echo" (2008), which was also directed by Laranas. His other memorable films include "The Road" (2013) and "Aurora" (2018). For his latest work, "Nightshift," Laranas once again revisits his favorite genre.
Jessie (Yam Concepcion) was a young Med Tech graduate who decided to work as a morgue assistant for pathologist Dr. Alex (Michael de Mesa) first before going on to medical school. On this particularly busy night duty, there was a supertyphoon raging outside, and her replacement could not come on time. Overworked and sleepy amidst all the cadavers, Jessie began to hear eerie sounds, witness terrifying visions and have ghastly nightmares, even as Dr. Alex entertained her with sick scare pranks, facts about dead bodies, and discussions about the afterlife.
Concepcion spent the whole time looking tired and confused as Jessie. She definitely made you feel her stress and exhaustion. She had been on morgue duty for more than 24 hours so I don't blame her cabin fever. Even then, Jessie was very devoted to her duty, despite how cruelly it seemed to be playing with her mind. I am not really sure why she kept on obsessively mopping and scrubbing the floor even though there were no spills shown the scene before. However, when unexpected revelations were made at the end, there would be a lot more questions which would arise about Jessie rather than those answered. They should have been more careful about her interactions and other details.
The presence of Michael de Mesa as Dr. Alex was a reassuring one. However, the good doctor was quite unpredictable in terms of behavior. I guess spending day in and day out dissecting corpses could take its toll on one's psychological makeup and sense of humor. They could have finished the arc of his character better.
Character actors were cast as side characters who complicated Jessie's night even more, like Epy Quizon and Soliman Cruz (as the thieving aides), Ruby Ruiz (as the head nurse), Irma Adlawan (as the hysterical mother) and Mercedes Cabral (as the very late co-worker).
A morgue was also the claustrophobic setting of a recent Hollywood film entitled "The Possession of Hannah Grace" (Diederik Van Rooijen, 2018). Therefore I cannot help but to see several similarities with the horror gimmicks employed in both films. I guess there are only so many scares you can cook up in the confines of a morgue.
Most of them should be quite predictable already, like flickering lights, dark shadows, unsettling noises, breathing corpses, moving corpses, missing corpses, being trapped in a freezer, and the like. In contrast with Hannah Grace's modern morgue, Jessie's morgue was much older, creakier and had more character to its credit.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."