Fantasia Film Festival 2018 Movie Review: THE NIGHTSHIFTER

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It really must take a special kind of person to work in a morgue. Constantly seeing (actual) blood and guts and dead bodies, always smelling formaldehyde (and smelling like formaldehyde), and God forbid if you work on the night shift, then it’s just you and the bodies all night long. The protagonist of THE NIGHTSHIFTER (original title Morto Nao Fala), Stenio (Daniel de Oliveira; The Dead Girl’s Feast) is one of those special people. His ability to stomach a job that very few people can is not the only thing that makes him unique. What truly sets him apart from every other working stiff (pun very much intended) is that he can talk to the dead bodies in the morgue. 

Stenio doesn’t know how he inherited this strange talent; it is just something that he’s always been able to do. He has also never told anyone else in his life, because honestly, would you believe it if someone told you that they could speak to dead bodies? Stenio carries the burden of dead people’s secrets with him in silence. He eases this by often visiting his neighborhood bakery. I guess in Brazil, bakeries serve alcohol early in the morning, which is yet another reason I hope to someday visit the country. Anyway, we can tell that working at the morgue isn’t exactly making Stenio the big bucks because he has a long-running tab at the bakery, owned by an older man, Jaime (Marco Ricca; The Trespasser, Two Irenes ). We find out during Stenio’s first onscreen visit to the bakery that Jaime’s wife is in a coma in the hospital and his daughter; Lara (Bianca Comparato; In Treatment, Brazil Avenue) often visits her mother, making her late to her job at the bakery. 

For a while, it seems as though Stenio is such a loner, that there could be no way he has a family, but he does. A wife named Odete (Fabiula Nascimento; Estomago: A Gastronomic Story, A Wolf at the Door), a son named Edson and a daughter named Cica (Annalara Prates; O Caseiro, Just Like Our Parents). Since he works the night shift, a lot of the responsibility with the children and household chores is put on Odete, which she is extremely vocally annoyed about. She also hates that Stenio always smells like a morgue and well, seemingly everything else about him. 

Things go on pretty regularly (well as regularly as they can for a person who talks to corpses) for a while until Stenio knows one of the cadavers that comes into the morgue. The guy, who seems to be a real gem (read: asshole), lets Stenio know that Odete is cheating on him with Jaime, the guy who owns the bakery he goes to all the time. Stenio is upset but doesn’t necessarily believe him until he sees Odete and Jaime together in Jaime’s car with his own eyes. Then he becomes furious to the point where all rationality goes out the window and he makes an incredibly bad choice. Like keeping your eyes open when the Arc of the Covenant is in the room kind of choice. Apparently, telling a dead man’s secret makes it a deadly secret, according to a gunshot victim who tells Stenio this earlier in the film. Stenio’s choice not only gets him into major trouble in his world but also in the world of the spirits. 

I’ve said this about quite a few films that have premiered during Fantasia Film Festival, but here again, THE NIGHTSHIFTER is one of the best horror films I’ve seen so far this year. It takes a premise that on paper seems like it might be a rip off of The Sixth Sense and turns it into something so wholly original and absolutely terrifying. There is so much tension that (since I was in my own home, by myself, and couldn’t be judged) I was yelling at the screen all throughout the second half. There are countless times where I thought nothing worse could happen to Stenio, and yet, the hits keep on coming. 

I’m also very impressed with the fact that THE NIGHTSHIFTER is a debut feature. Dennison Ramalho has been directing short films such as Nocturnu and ABC’s of Death since 1998, so he is no rookie, but nevertheless, what a great entry into feature films! The story explores the dark side of humanity and the destruction people are capable of when they feel the extremes of such strong and sometimes debilitating emotions such as anger, guilt, and loneliness. 

THE NIGHTSHIFTER premiered July 17th at Fantasia International Film Festival. As of this moment, there is no mention of a US release date but stay tuned, because this film is an absolute must see of 2018. 

Lorry Kikta