morgue

The Nightshifter

nightshifter

Stênio works the night shift at a morgue in Brazil. While his life seems fairly mundane, there is one thing that makes Stênio unique; he can speak to the dead. Each night he communicates with the dead who end up on his slab. When Stênio messes with forces more powerful than he understands, he unwittingly unleashes his own hell on Earth.

This frightening Brazilian film is an adaptation of the novel by Marco de Castro. Cláudia Jouvin (Alone Man) co-wrote the adaptation with director Dennison Ramalho (ABC’s of Death 2). What makes The Nightshifter so fascinating is the unique mythology it creates. The film quickly established Stênio’s ability to speak with the dead and that he has always had this ability. Yet he keeps it a secret and it is not revealed why he has this strange gift. For the most part all the dead can do is talk. That is, until Stênio breaks the rules of the dead and unleashes an evil that is dedicated to ruining his life. Unfortunately, this is also where the mythology gets a little foggy. The rules are not well established and result in a bit of confusion as to what the dead are capable of doing.

One thing the filmmakers of The Nightshifter are very skilled at is the building of tension. Even when the dead are not a threat, there is something absolutely disturbing about them. As things get more intense, the suspense becomes palpable. Some of the most tense scenes involve an evil entity attempting to make Stênio appear as though he’s insane. Many of the scares are also quite effective. I watched the film on a computer during the day and certain scenes still managed to make my hair stand on end. I can only imagine how terrifying the film would be on a bigger screen in the dark. While for the most part the film has great intensity, the pacing is a bit off in certain areas. It leads to strange lulls interspersed throughout the tension and makes the film seem like it goes on longer than it truly does.

The performances in The Night Shifter are all fantastic, even if some of the characters aren’t that well written. Daniel de Oliveira (Liquid Truth, Boca) is a delight to watch as Stênio. He may not be perfect, but Stênio is dedicated to his work and clearly loves his children. When his children are in danger, he does his best to protect them. Oliveira commands attention every time he’s on screen. While the female leads are written as unfortunate stereotypes, the performances are fantastic. Fabiula Nascimento (492, A Wolf at the Door) plays Stênio’s wife, Odete. She is the stereotype of the bitchy, unfaithful wife who seems to hate her husband. Bianca Comparato (3%, In Treatment) plays the virginal, sweet, and helpful Lara. Both Nascimento and Comparato play their characters well despite the archetypes they represent. I can only imagine these are how the women were written in the book, but I wish the filmmakers had made these women a bit more complex.

There are some really great effects used in the film. The Nightshifter utilizes a combination of CGI and practical effects in order to achieve gorgeous imagery and spine-chilling frights. For the most part, the bodies in the morgue are made to look gruesome through practical effects. It is nearly impossible to tell these are not real bodies, even during the autopsy scenes. The CGI comes in when the dead talk to Stênio. There appears to be CGI layered over the face of the cadavers to create a truly eery and disturbing appearance. The filmmakers also smartly utilize lighting in their favor, illuminating scenes in a way that draws focus to a specific area while also making the film beautiful to look at.

The Nightshifter is a spine-chilling tale that shows one should never meddle with the dead. While I’m not familiar with the source material, Ramalho and Jouvin clearly delivered an effective adaptation. It brings plenty of tension and scares, along with fantastic performances. There are some areas where the pacing falters a bit and the female characters leave something to be desired. Despite that, the film is still an achievement in Brazilian filmmaking. Horror fans, be sure to thank Shudder for bringing such a beautiful film to the states.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

The Autopsy of Jane Doe

The body of a woman is found partially buried in the basement of a home with multiple murder victims. The identity and cause of death is clear for all the victims, except the woman. Not only is there no clear cause of death, but no one knows who she is or where she came from. The sheriff entrusts the body with a father and son coroner team to find out who she is and how she died before the press gets wind of the situation. As the father and son work through the night to conduct their autopsy strange things begin to happen. There is more to this Jane Doe than meets the eye.

This film is a horror lover’s dream. Director André Øvredal has dabbled in the horror genre with the delightful Trollhunter in 2010, but this is the first truly terrifying film he has worked on. The audience is immediately thrown into the crime scene where the body of Jane Doe is discovered. At once we are apart of the mystery and the investigation into the odd circumstances surrounding what happened in the house and who this woman is. When we are introduced to the father and son coroner team, the filmmakers do an excellent job of quickly developing their characters and their relationship. This allows the plot to move swiftly into the autopsy phase. There is further character development during the scientific study of Jane Doe, but you feel like you already have a grasp of the characters before that.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe perfectly blends science and the supernatural. As the coroners are performing the autopsy they try to find a way to rationalize all the unexplainable wounds they discover. Things eventually become more and more strange, leading to the supernatural happenings and the realization that nothing about the corpse is normal. It is filled with secrets and things that should not be possible. The further into the autopsy the duo goes, the more strange and terrifying everything becomes. On more than one occasion I hid my face behind my hands in anticipation of what scary things were to come, but at the same time I couldn’t look away.

The two leads in this film are wonderful. Emile Hirsch (The Girl Next Door, Into the Wild) gives his usual excellent performance as the son, Austin Tilden. While he is science-minded like his father, Hirsch shows that Austin is the first to notice the strange happenings and accept them for what they are. I especially enjoyed Brian Cox (Morgan, Trick ‘r Treat) as the father and widower, Tommy Tilden. Cox creates a perfect blend of characteristics for Tommy. Tommy is sad and lonely after the death of his wife, but he gets through each day by burying himself in his work as well as with the support of his son, but he does it all with a sense of humor. This is conveyed by Cox in such a way that Tommy feels like a real, complex person. I also have to give a nod to Jane Doe herself, played by Olwen Catherine Kelly (Darkness on the Edge of Town). While she plays a lifeless corpse throughout the film, I was impressed by the fact that not once did I look at her as a living person. I can’t even imagine what the workday would look like laying naked on the slab each day, trying to hide your breathing and minimizing any movement during filming.

Horror films can often feel real, depending on the content and how they are made. The scientific aspect of this film keeps it somewhat grounded in reality, but what really makes this film feel so real is the effects. Before seeing the film I was expecting the autopsy itself to happen slightly off camera so the audience never really sees anything. What surprised me is this film successfully hides certain terrifying aspects while keeping others in plain sight. Much to my delight you never really see the things lurking in the dark, yet you see everything that happens to Jane Doe on the slab. Not only do you see the entire process of the autopsy, but the practical effects are so well done that it feels like you are watching an actual corpse being dissected. Everything is masterfully done from the smaller effects like cutting into the skin, to the bigger ones like cutting open her ribs to examine the organs. It was all beautiful, terrifying, and lifelike.

This is a very successful jump into the horror genre for André Øvredal. The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a truly frightening film. It contains many of my favorite aspects of horror films: science, supernatural happenings, great acting, a unique story, excellent practical effects, and it doesn’t reveal so much that it takes away from the scares. This is the kind of film that makes your hair stand on end and gives you the feeling that someone, or something, is lurking behind you. I imagine you could watch this film repeatedly and see new, small details you never noticed before. I can honestly say this is one of the best horror films of 2016, if not one of the best I have seen in years.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10