In the bloody tradition of 1996’s From Dusk ‘Til Dawn (bank robbers vs. vampires!) and 2015’s Green Room (punks vs. neo-Nazis!), the British action-comedy Nightshooters pits a crew of indie filmmakers against vicious gangsters in a single location, specifically an anonymous London office building. If this genre mash-up sometimes strains to justify feature length, writer-director Marc Price is always savvy enough to balance a self-aware streak with a sense of jeopardy. There’s also the presence of French-Cambodian actor and stuntman Jean-Paul Ly, a veritable one-man whirlwind whose furious martial arts displays give the increasingly gnarly proceedings a jolt whenever they threaten to flag.
It starts out as a sharp dig at the current state of low-budget genre filmmaking with Marshall (Adam McNab) hurriedly snagging pick-up shots for his independent zombie flick late at night in an abandoned building that is scheduled for demolition in the morning. He’s reliant on (if rather condescending to) a skeleton crew consisting of special effects technician Ellie (Rosanna Hoult), sound recordist Oddbod (Nicky Evans), stuntman Donnie (Ly), and production assistants Jen (Kaitlyn Riordan) and Kim (Mica Proctor). The coffee is cold and there are problems with the acoustics (“There’s more bounce in here than one of your paychecks.”) Plus they all have to deal with arrogant leading man Harper Partridge (Doug Allen), a washed-up star who boasts about having been beaten-up on screen by Scott Adkins. The opening twenty minutes of Nightshooters are like Living in Oblivion (1995) for the DTV industry.
It suddenly shifts into action territory, though, when the crew witnesses a merciless gangland execution in the neighboring block. Targeted by underworld figure Tarker (Nick Frost lookalike Richard Sandling), they find themselves fighting to stay alive. After evading the initial wave of heavily armed henchmen, largely thanks to Donnie’s lethal dexterity, they think their chance of surviving by hiding out until morning is fair. That is until Marshall reveals that nobody knows they are there because, in true guerilla filmmaker fashion, he never arranged a production permit. With demolition time approaching, the crew maximizes threadbare resources to stage a fight back.
Nightshooters may be packed with verbal and visual references to Robocop (1987), Die Hard (1988), Judgment Night (1993) and The Raid (2011), but it wears its British identity on its sleeve, particularly in the final comedown scene. In terms of local genre cinema, it doesn’t quite vault into the upper echelon occupied by Shaun of the Dead (2004), Attack the Block (2011) and Kill List (2011) but ably scales the middle-tier represented by Dog Soldiers (2002), Creep (2004) and Severance (2006). The action scenes are suitably panic-ridden yet covered and edited in a clear manner that accommodates everyone involved. There is some playing for time that causes interest to wane around the standout confrontations or Ly’s inspired choreography, but Price is always able to fall back on his penchant for dark comedy. Although played straight, gallows humor is abundant, most notably in film crew banter that becomes particularly trenchant when mutually employed as a coping mechanism.
If the film crew is an agreeably credible bunch, the gangsters unfortunately oscillate between chillingly practical problem solving (the call sheet becomes a hit list) and downright imbecilic, depending on whether Price is mining laughs or menace. It probably contains more swearing than any other film in recent memory, which isn’t necessarily a problem, but Tarker’s expletive-ridden rants soon become tiresome. If the gangsters are notably less entertaining to spend time with, Price nonetheless finds parallels between the two worlds in the gig economy. Members of both sides have drifted into their line of work from other professions (“I’m going back to selling cars” grumbles one of Tarker’s henchmen) and both are reliant on employers (Marshall/Tarker) who omit crucial details from the job description. The film’s title refers to both groups but it’s the film crew that rises above their tough luck circumstances. This shouldn’t be surprising when one recalls that Price famously pulled together his zombie shocker Colin (2008) for a thrifty £45.
With its decent production values, moody lighting, and outrageous deaths, Nightshooters obviously cost quite a bit more yet still has an endearing DIY quality. The creative use of makeshift weapons ups the squelch factor but Ly is the true ‘special effect’ here. Playing a loose version of himself as the stunt guy who can actually do a whole lot more, Ly builds on the promise of Jailbreak (2017) with a confident blend of dynamic physicality and a slyly understated charm that enables him to (verbally) bounce off his co-stars as part of a balanced ensemble. A team-up with Scott Adkins? Bring it on!