Remember Dr. Dolittle? Sure you do–he was the dude that could talk to animals. He got into all sorts of hairy situations that his otherworldly talent was able to bail him out of. But what if such a talent only created more panic and chaos? Such is the case in The Nightshifter. It’s a classic tale of “just because you can do something… doesn’t mean you should”, and in this particular application, it’s mostly effective. Mostly.

“Just because you can do something… doesn’t mean you should”

We follow Stênio, the nightshifter of a morgue who has the ability to communicate with the cadavers brought to him. It’s in these moments where the film offers something truly unique. The gritty Brazilian backdrop serves as the perfect location for a seemingly rotating door of gang members and street toughs; all of which share far more than they should with the one man that can hear them after death. When Stênio makes a discovery that places his personal life in jeopardy, he uses the information obtained from the dead to put in place a deadly chain of events that leaves himself and the ones he cares for in harm’s way. It turns out, if you share the secrets of the dead, the dead will return to reclaim them–and that’s where The Nightshifter morphs from its fresh concept to a tired, and markedly average, haunted affair.

“Plenty of tension and gore to satiate all horror hounds of all walks.”

But before the baffling plot pivot occurs, The Nightshifter gets a lot right. The visual effects are killer–especially as Stênio converses with his deceased companions. There’s a sort of uncanny valley that occurs visually when digital (I think) faces are dropped on top of still bodies. It would be distracting, but it’s so well done that the gag comes off feeling appropriately strange and unsettling. As the body parts begin to stack and the paranormal events begin to occur in the home, there’s plenty of tension and gore to satiate all horror hounds of all walks. Unfortunately, that all comes to a screeching halt, and the conversations with the dead (along with all of the plot work achieved by them) goes out the window in favor of a tale we’ve seen iterations of time and time again. It’s a shame.

Nevertheless–this is a film that serves as a strong feature debut from director Dennison Ramalho. He’s one to watch; even if this one takes an unfortunate detour into plainsville. The Nightshifter screened at the 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival. We’ll update when a release date is made available.