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Dead By Dawn 2019: THE NIGHTSHIFTER Review

By Simon Read [04.22.19]


Stenio is a morgue attendant in Sao Paulo who can communicate with the dead. He uses his supernatural gift to solve crimes and, eventually, attempt to change the circumstances of his own rather desperate life.


The debut feature from Dennison Ramalho, The Nightshifter is a film with an intriguing premise, and early scenes in which grisly corpses come to life before Stenio's weary eyes hit target in a Guillermo del Toro sort of way. At its best the film is reminiscent of Michele Soavi's Cemetery Man, its tone projecting a similar sense of sadness and ennui - Stenio has not asked for this horrible gift. Unfortunately, after around half an hour, things become oddly tedious, and ultimately the film fails to deliver on its early promise. What begins as an interesting set-up actually becomes a chore to watch – a soapy melodrama with added talking corpses.


Stenio's life is indeed desperate. His wife treats him like a loser and a cuckold, while his neighbourhood is dominated by gang violence and civil unrest. When the corpses start to chatter - some are candid, others confused, most are angry - Stenio uses their secrets to right wrongs and, I suppose, to find a sense of purpose.



But purpose is something this character lacks, and momentum is something this film desperately needed. We don't really get to know Stenio the man, and so his journey feels of little consequence. Actor Daniel de Oliveira, frankly, plays his role very flat. Stenio is a man to whom things happen, not a man who does things. There came a point during the near two hour run time when I suddenly noticed that the character had a son, and that somehow I'd zoned out and missed this plot element entirely. Imagine my surprise when I later realised that he also has a daughter and I'd missed that too.


The film is well enough acted, taking its characters and corpses very seriously, so the issue is almost purely to do with pacing. While there are lots of picturesque aerial shots of Sao Paulo at night, occasional scenes of violence and brief references to demons and mythology, the bulk of the film feels like a series of unengaging and repetitive conversations between a weak protagonist and the unpleasant people in his life, be they dead or alive. This does not make for an interesting film.


The Nightshifter is impressive at least in its visual design and for some haunting set-pieces, but the audience feel every single minute of its running time, occasionally wondering whether we're watching a horrific fairly tale, a thriller or a family drama. Whatever it is, in attempting to be all three, it isn't a satisfying film.




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