Saturday, August 19, 2023

#2,923. The Nightshifter (2018) - Random Musings


I first came across Dennison Ramalho’s The Nightshifter in late 2019, when I was compiling that year’s Top 10 horror movies list. The premise blew me away, and I was floored by how strongly the film started.

Stenio (Daniel De Oliveira) works the night shift in a Brazilian morgue. But more than just assist on autopsies and clean up the ensuing mess, Stenio can communicate with the cadavers!

Not their spirits… the bodies themselves, some of which don’t even know they are dead.

It is a gift he's had for some time, and he uses it to help the recently deceased. One guy, who was stabbed to death in a bar while arguing the latest football match, begs Stenio to alert his family. He doesn’t want to be buried in a pauper’s grave.

Stenio helps him. He seems like a good guy.

When Stenio heads home, he is treated like shit by his wife Odete (Fabiula Nascimento), who complains he doesn't make enough money and always smells of formaldehyde. She is relentlessly nasty, to the point that not even their kids Edson (Caua Martins) and Cica (Annalara Prates) have any respect for poor Stenio.

Then, one day at the morgue, Stenio works on the body of a guy he knew, who informs him from he other side that Odete has been having an affair with local shop owner Jaime (Marco Ricca).

It’s at this point Stenio does something very, very bad.

Using information he obtained days earlier from the corpse of a gang member, Stenio convinces the dead gangster’s brother, and the leader of said gang, that Jaime was responsible for his late bro’s demise. He wasn't, of course, but Stenio is pissed, and wants to get back at Jamie for screwing Odete.

This kicks off a chain of events that will affect Stenio and his family, and it’s at this point Stenio is tormented by an angry spirit, which is bound and determined to make his life a living hell.

When I first watched The Nightshifter, I felt that the film’s second half, when Stenio is dealing with the vengeful spectre, wasn’t as interesting as what came before. Whereas the beginning was creative and engaging as hell, the movie falls into more traditional territory as it goes along. By the time that initial viewing in late 2019 was over, I decided The Nightshifter deserved a place on my list, but down around the #7 or #8 slot.

Then something happened.

For days I could not stop thinking about this movie. I kept turning it over and over in my head. So, I had to watch it again, and while the last half still felt routine, it worked better this second time because of the situation that Stenio found himself in, something I now realized was more terrifying than an angry ghost coming after him.

Just after the tragedy brought on by Stenio, the corpses that communicate with him in the morgue start treating him differently. They inform Stenio, in no uncertain terms, that he misused this special gift he was given, taking information from the dead and using it to exact revenge. Because of this, he is now a marked man on the “other side”, a cursed individual, and retribution is waiting to unleash its fury on him in the afterlife.

The pissed-off spirit that messes with Stenio and his kids, as well as Lara (Bianca Comparato), Jaime’s twentysomething daughter, is nasty, and would kill the children just to torment Stenio. Yet as bad as this situation is, we the viewer know that our lead character has an even worse fate awaiting him, and it’s one he can never escape. What’s more… it’s a reckoning that will stretch on for eternity! Stenio will suffer for his misdeeds… for the rest of time!

It’s kind of like the Freddy Krueger effect I touched on in my write-up of 1984’s The Nightmare on Elm Street, where I said Freddy was perhaps the scariest of the ‘80s slasher villains because you could not outrun him, you could not outlast him. Keep out of the woods, and Jason Voorhees won’t get you (until he went to Manhattan). But you will fall asleep at some point. You cannot stay awake forever. Which means Freddy need only wait you out… you will go to him.

It’s the same for poor Stenio. One day, he will die. Even if he lasts another 70 years, death is inevitable. And he will face the terrible wrath he has brought upon himself.

I was still underwhelmed by some of the movie’s more mundane scare scenes, but Stenio’s ultimate fate hit me harder the second time around. He has something terrible hanging over his head, making his situation seem totally hopeless.

To his credit, he does not despair. He now lives to protect Lara and his kids. But even that won’t save him in the end. Stenio is doomed.

After that second viewing, The Nightshifter shot all the way to the top of my list. It was, and remains, the best horror film I saw in 2019.
Rating: 9 out of 10

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