Day Shift: A novel (s)take on vampire slaying
Netflix’s latest isn’t entirely toothless, but is “fine” enough these days?
Vampires really love southern California, don’t they? From The Lost Boys to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the seemingly incongruous imagery of sunny beaches inhabited by creatures of the night is one of media’s most popular tropes. Netflix seeks to cash in on this with Day Shift, the action-packed directorial debut from J.J. Perry (whose work as stunt coordinator on movies like John Wick: Chapter 2 and F9: The Fast Saga greatly informs the tone and style of the film).
Day Shift wastes no time introducing us to Bud Jablonski (Jamie Foxx), whose job as a pool cleaner is a front for a more exciting source of income: hunting vampires. When his estranged wife Jocelyn (Meagan Good) threatens to move out of California with their daughter Paige (Zion Broadnax) unless Bud can prove he’s financially stable, he must call upon his longtime friend, prolific vampire hunter Big John Elliott (Snoop Dogg), in the hopes of getting readmitted to the Vampire Killer’s Union. Paired up with guideline-abiding desk jockey Seth (Dave Franco), Bud is assigned the morning shift and given mere days to prove he’s worthy.
One has to admire screenwriters Tyler Tice and Shay Hatten for finding a way to keep the modern vampire mythos feeling fresh. Establishing a Vampire Killers Union does for vampires what John Wick’s High Table did for organized crime. The film also brings its own take on vampire biology—a vampire cannot live without its fangs. Vampire fangs are bought and sold at the Union or at pawn shops, with price varying based on vampire age. These small touches give the film a unique voice.
Tonally, Day Shift is an action-comedy set in a horror world. Diverse weapons and gleefully-destroyed set pieces kept the action sequences inventive and engaging. In one scene, Bud and Seth infiltrate a hive with rival vampire killers Mike and Diran (Steve Howey and Scott Adkins), and the ensuing fight sequence navigates the line between ludicrous and impressive deftly.
The small cast is mostly enjoyable, with Dave Franco giving one of his funniest performances yet as the dweeby Seth, who wants nothing more than to wear suits and work in the office. The universally-beloved Peter Stormare also has a small role as a pawn shop owner.
Unfortunately, the film’s antagonist Audrey San Fernando (Karla Souza) is underwhelming, with motives that feel both shoehorned in and incredibly obvious. While Bud and Paige’s father-daughter relationship is funny and relatable, one can’t help but feel the story would be far more engaging if Jocelyn was the one fighting vampires and trying to keep their family safe. It would be great to see Good showcase the action chops she honed in movies like Monster Hunter and D.E.B.S.
Netflix’s failure to include compelling characters is especially insulting in the wake of the announcement that the company’s other recent vampire project, the queer drama series First Kill, was cancelled despite a warm reception from young audiences. Netflix keeps dumping millions of dollars into cameo-stuffed movies that range from terrible to fine, while gutting stories that have immense potential, but are slow out of the gate.
Netflix can and should do better than “fine.” Day Shift has bright, fun action sequences and a sweet father-daughter story, but the movie’s missteps leave behind a sour taste.