2023, R, 93 min. Directed by Anthony DiBlasi. Starring Jessica Sula, Candice Coke, Chaney Morrow, Clarke Wolfe, Morgan Lennon, Valerie Loo, Monroe Cline, Eric Olson, Kevin Wayne.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., March 31, 2023
It's rare that a filmmaker gets a do-over. In 2014, Anthony DiBlasi directed Last Shift, a low-key, low-budget horror about a rookie cop in a closing police station besieged by the ghosts of deranged cultists (imagine a more satanic Assault on Precinct 13). The film felt constrained by its budget, as if DiBlasi had taken the script he cowrote with Scott Poiley and trimmed bigger ambitions to fit the limitations of indie filmmaking. Now he revisits that shuttered corner of Hades for Malum, a remake of his own film.
One of the core decisions of the original was to keep the story to the perspective of rookie cop Jessica Loren, raising an ambiguity about how much of her descent into Hell was real. Malum seems to undo that ambiguity with a precredit sequence involving details on the cannibalistic cult lead by the Manson-esque Malum (Morrow) and their connection to sinister forces.
Jessica (Sula, taking over from Juliana Harkavy in the original) is given a slightly more convoluted back story: this time, it’s not just that her cop dad was a victim of the cultists, but now he seems to have been a participant in their bloody rampage. That’s a twist that gives Jessica even less reason to want to step into his boots, but she does anyway, holding down the fort on this last night at the precinct house. It leaves her with something like a redemption plot, although that seems swallowed up by antagonism toward her formerly absentee mother. However, what finally emerges is some convoluted story of predestination that, rather unfortunately, make Malum feel like DiBlasi and watched Hereditary before their rewrite (which is funny, because Last Shift pulled Paimon out of a grimoire four years before Ari Aster summoned the Third King of Hell).
In both versions, it's going to be Jessica - her motivations and her reactions to this descent into madness - and that's definitely one place where Last Shift has an edge. Harkavy, with a more linear plot, translated her trauma and sense of unease, while Sula seems to sometime hew closer to a more conventional horror heroine, giving the story less heft.
It may be that bigger story that triggered this remake, but it’s hard to say that the end result is a better or more enjoyable film. It’s sometimes better shot, but the performances seem broader and weaker, and DiBlasi’s successes at creating a dour, gloomy mood are undercut by an over-reliance on jump cuts and jump scares. At least Last Shift had a grubby ingenuity. Malum has enough budget to be too glossy to be gutter fun, and adds little visually much beyond some very mediocre practical effects, often feeling that – yet again – its ambitions outstripped its grasp. Ah, well, maybe third time will be the charm …