Hammer Time: Trauma and Terror in Gas Station Horror ‘Open 24 Hours’

After a brief stint in prison for setting her boyfriend on fire, Mary (Vanessa Grasse) manages to land a sweet gig operating the till at a 24-hour petrol station. Her boyfriend was a serial murderer, and Mary is beset with guilt at her perceived complicity in his crimes. Although she never participated, she also never raised the alarm despite being made to watch as he went about his immoral business. Now she’s being hounded by paranoid visions of the past and is struggling to hold it together on her first day on the job.

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Open 24 Hours is a visually lush film – the grotty interior of the petrol station is perfectly realised, with every item on every rack expertly chosen and placed. Walls and floors are discoloured to perfection, and the queasy lighting is perfect for creating an atmosphere of mild disgust. For a single location film, this sense of place is crucial, and Open 24 Hours really gets its money’s worth out of the minimal set.

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When the pace picks up, it’s also a film that is unafraid of blood and guts. The physical effects, created by Josh and Sierra Russell, are bold and wince-inducing. The kills are brutal and creative, but director Padraig Reynolds has a no-nonsense approach to showcasing violence, which really plays in the film’s favour. With the killer’s weapon of choice being a hammer, it’s all about recreating the visceral thud of metal on bone, and viewers will feel some of these hits in their guts.

The issues with the film are primarily in the storytelling, rather than the technical chops. Mary has the potential to be a much more complex and interesting final girl than the standard paper-thin characters we may be used to. She has genuine trauma in her past, as well as a morally ambiguous background that makes her a compellingly problematic hero to root for. The film, however, doesn’t really delve too far into this, and by the time the final act rolls around, the more interesting aspects of Mary’s character take a backseat to acts of generic horror heroism.

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The performances from Vanessa Grasse and Dan Fletcher (as Mary’s slacker colleague) are good, which only makes it seem more of a shame that their characters aren’t fleshed out more.

The first half of the film is spent building suspense. This is mainly achieved through having Mary’s trauma-induced hallucinations intrude into her waking life, always accompanied by an oppressively loud musical sting. While there are a few effective instances, especially early on, these moments begin to lose their impact quickly. There is little room for ambiguity when a full brass band lets rip, and the visions themselves aren’t surprising enough to make them memorable. As a result, the film feels like it’s spending a lot of time spinning its wheels.

An unusual premise and some striking visual flair will pique your interest, but Open 24 Hours may struggle to hold your attention for its entire runtime.

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