Directed by Dennison Ramalho, The Nightshifter is a Portugues-language decent into madness that seamlessly blends multiple subgenres of horror into a little over an hour and a half of story. A Shudder Exclusive, The Nightshifter is a Brazilian production that terrifies the audience on multiple levels. To put it simply, if something makes you squirm, this film has it.
While the film is filled to the brim with scares and an uncomfortable aura that makes even benign sounds over a radio chill your bones, the story is always in focus. The film revolves around Stênio (Daniel de Oliveira), a mortician who works the graveyard shift in a violent Brazilian city. While working long hours bring isolation, the constant flow of bodies that make their way into his morgue keep him company. Stênio talks to the dead and the dead talk back.
Now, before you worry that this is just an “I talk to deal people” film, The Nightshifter pushes past that box. When a gang member makes his way across Stênio’s cold table, he reveals secrets of Stênio’s own life. With a marriage filled with more spite than love, the revelation that his wife, Odete (Fabiula Nascimento), has betrayed their bond leads Stênio to exploit his ability to hear the dead. It’s here that the film moves into tradition violence as Stênio makes the choice to use the secrets of the dead to teach his wife a lesson, conning criminals into killing his wife’s lover, but it goes awry and instead, a curse is unleashed on himself and his family that threatens their minds and their lives.
Having established supernatural elements from the beginning and then transitioning to human violence, it’s a shock when the film winds it’s way back to the supernatural as Stênio finds his home the host to a poltergeist, which is mistaken for the gang members initially. As the film continues to build a narrative of guilt and grief around Stênio, the responsibility that he feels for his wife’s death moves from pride to fear. As he cleans her body, she converses with him. As she pleads, he rebukes her and places her wedding ring on her hand, claiming her in the afterlife, a final moment of revenge.
But the ring find its way back and slowly the film switches gears again from a poltergeist to a traditional haunting. Writing appears on the ceiling, his son receives a human spine for his birthday, and Stênio is physically hurt all manufactured by his wife’s spirit, or is it? While The Nightshifter sets ups a great haunting, it also asks us to question Stênio’s state of mind. Seen through his perspective, the world of horror in front of him dissipates once he is around his children, Edison and Ceça (Annalara Prates). When they are brought into focus it looks as if their father is wreaking the havoc.
The supernatural elements of The Nightshifter work to showcase Stênio’s instability. Filled with guilt, believing he is marked using a dead man’s secret, the center of the film pushes the audience to question everything that they’re seeing on screen. Is he hurting his kids? Is he the one drawing blood? It isn’t until the final subgenre that Ramalho uses that everything becomes clear. In possession, we see Stênio’s sins pushed into the light, and his life and home truly in danger.
The Nighshifter beautifully mixes body horror into its supernatural world. We see dissected bodies, organs, hear the squish of skin, and the cutting of bone. This is all through visuals that look so grotesque and uncanny that your stomach crunches up. The blood and the bodies are never used to shock, only to map out the Stênio’s world. It’s decaying, it’s rotted, and he’s descending down towards a breaking point. The tension is built through his conversations with the dead, not the effect of the dead talking or their swollen bodies.
That being said, the use of CGI to map an actors face onto the corpse did not hit every time. Often, the face was not aligned properly and was distracting. But we’ve seen the dead in other films before. They turn their heads quickly and jolt up as if almost alive. But in The Nightshifter, they do not move other than to talk. This adds a new dynamic to the talking dead and pushed them deeper into the uncanny valley.
Overall, The Nightshifter ends in a macabre and just finale. While I was left with many questions as the screen went black, the story was driven by characters, accented by horror, and balanced with realistic gore. The Nighshifter, in weaving together different strands of unique horror subgenres, gives its audience a complete look at a descent into madness fueled by grief and guilt, and a supernatural revenge on a character that is hard to like.
The acting in the film is superb. Oliveira is fascinating and terrifying as Stênio and the use of voice work for the dead and the small distortion of the voices added depth to performances from cold bodies on the table.
With The Nightshifter from Brazil and Tigers Are Not Afraid from Mexico coming soon, Shudder is offering a Latin American line-up of horror that will bring great talent to wide audiences on their platforms. As one of the best horror movies I’ve seen this year, The Nightshifter is a must watch and a masterclass in how to use all the weight of the genre to tell a cohesive story while using multiple brands of horror to set the pacing and define the stages of the protagonist’s journey.
The Nightshifter is now available, exclusively on Shudder.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.