The Nightshifter (2018)
★★ / ★★★★
Dennison Ramalho’s “The Nightshifter” tells the story of an assistant coroner named Stênio (Daniel de Oliviera) who possesses the ability to talk to the dead. We do not go through the standard motions of the man discovering he has such a gift nor is it revealed to us that he does anything particularly special with it. To him, communicating with the flesh of those who’ve passed is like breathing; he does not even blink at the fact when the meat lying on the metal table—no matter how deformed or rotten—begins a conversation. It is most frustrating then that screenwriters Cláudia Jouvin and Dennison Ramalho fail to take such a terrific (and fun) premise in interesting and memorable directions.
About a third of the way through, it is reduced to just another story that involves a haunting. While some may claim that since the film is based upon the novel by Marco de Castro, it is tethered to follow the content within the source of material. This is incorrect. Those who pen the screenplay are responsible for ensuring that the movie rendition is fresh—even if it means jutting off in unexpected directions. Consider the landscape of horror films that touch upon hauntings. The list runs for about a mile. Now consider a protagonist who has accepted the fact that he can share words, feelings, ideas, and secrets with the dead. How many films come to mind?
When reduced to its most elementary parts, “Morto Não Fala” is a cautionary tale of jealousy. Stênio discovers that his wife (Fabiula Nascimento) is having an affair with a baker (Marco Ricca) and so the assistant coroner uses information—a secret—revealed by a corpse, who was a member of a gang, to his advantage. The overworked and underpaid Stênio believes that by getting rid of his competition, the way Odete sees him—and therefore their marriage—will improve. Stênio is dead wrong on all accounts. Naturally, his plan backfires.
The practical effects of cadavers being cut open and organs being stripped out are realistic and beautiful. I am tickled every time there’s a new body being delivered which means it is time to make that V-shaped incision and let the blood gush out. Effects involving corpses coming to “life” is a curiosity. It is a challenge to discern at times whether the face is actually moving or if CGI is employed. It looks off—but in a good way. A level of uneasiness is created when the dead body is moving its mouth. Stênio remains unperturbed.
The spooky happenings inside Stênio’s house command no excitement. It is especially lame when some ostentatious event—like Stênio waking up in the middle of the night and discovering that a room is completely covered with razor-sharp kite strings—is actually just a figment of our protagonist’s imagination. Burnt looking figures appear. And furnitures move on their own. The lives of Stênio’s children are threatened. A kind neighbor named Lara (Bianca Comparato) gets involved eventually. She’s dedicated to protecting the kids. And no one sits down to have a serious conversation about the supernatural goings-on they’ve just witnessed. So they never get a chance to move forward together and actually attack the problem in an effective way. It is all so pedestrian. These loud scenes not only drag, they do not reveal or underscore details regarding Stênio’s double-edged gift.
“The Nightshifter” begins with an exclamation point but ends with a barely a whisper. It is sad to experience the trajectory of what could have been a strong film that can be both horrifying and darkly comic and have its potential be thrown away to quench audience expectations. This also could have been an effective character study of a man who has a family but is quite lonely because his wife despises him and his son does not respect him. Couple that with a job that requires nighttime isolation—he is surrounded by the shells of what once were people who laughed, cried, got angry, exercised kindness and at times cruelty. Maybe a movie of that caliber will be made one day—hopefully by filmmakers who are so courageous and confident with the material that they approach their project without compromise.