Contortionists Gave Netflix’s Day Shift Its Bone-Breaking Stunts

Ow. Photo: Netflix

Most of the time, a gun-toting, vampire-killing Snoop Dogg would easily be the coolest part of a Netflix movie. And yet Snoop Doggy Dogg doesn’t hold a lit blunt candle to the contorting vampires of Netflix’s Day Shift. Jamie Foxx plays a vampire hunter on a mission to save his family, first from financial trouble and then from a megalomaniac vampire who wants to take over the world. The film opens with Foxx in an all-out brawl with an old-lady vampire, who, over the course of the fight, gets tossed around, bent in half, and flip-flopped every which way. It’s tempting to be impressed by the digital effects at play, but the secret to Day Shift’s elaborate fight scenes isn’t any post–Death Becomes Her CGI work — it’s contortionists.

Director J.J. Perry, who worked as a stunt coordinator on films like John Wick: Chapter 2, came up with the idea to use contortionists to create his vampires’ otherworldly agility for his directorial debut. To make the throws look truly bone crunching, the contortionists would get into a contorted position first and then wires would then pull them back, flying them out of the pose. The final product is shown in reverse, so it looks like the vampires are getting thrown through the air and ending up in rubber-boned positions. “I didn’t invent contortionists and I didn’t invent reverse photography, but I married them and I’ll take the credit for that, if there’s any credit to be had,” said Perry to Tudum of his strategy. But at least one of his contortionists is ready to say how groundbreaking this is. “I would say it’s a first for the business,” says Jordan McKnight, one of six contortionist stuntpeople in the film. A self-described “extreme” contortionist, McKnight plays the old vampire in the movie’s opening scene. Off-screen, she’s currently working as a contortionist at Planet Hollywood in the Las Vegas show Amystika. In order to get a better sense of the body behind the stunts, Vulture talked to McKnight about contorting in old-lady prosthetics, the value of “extreme contortion” on film, and how to move like a vampire.

How does someone get into contortion?
I’ve always been, to a degree, really flexible since I was a baby. I did rhythmic gymnastics and competed in that for a while, then I transitioned into contortion after. I just saw a YouTube video of a contortionist and tried it; it fit my skill set, and I fell in love with it. The rest is history.

What do you see as the benefit of using contortions versus all CGI?
It adds a different effect to the movie. When you know it’s real, it blows your mind more. Everyone thinks it’s fake, but making it real is just different.

How does it make you feel when people think it’s fake?
I’m flattered because I made it look unreal. I made it look easy, and that’s always a compliment. At the same time, it’s funny because you wanna tell people it’s a real person being able to do this amazing thing.

Can you talk me through what it took to choreograph the opening scene where you play an elderly lady?
First, I went in for a rehearsal and the stunt team taught me the wirework. They were very helpful because I’d never done wirework before. They really helped me feel comfortable. We worked through all the tricks first and then we put it together and got taught choreo.

Was there a development of how the vampires moved?
I think contortion always works really well for horror and villains and that type of thing. I had to work on my vampire face because, when performing, I’m not doing that. I’m really into horror and gaming, so I started to think about being a creepy character that’s attacking.

What was it like performing in all of the vampire prosthetics?
That was fun. It took them so long to do, and they’re so committed to making it look perfect. It’s really interesting when you’re contorting, feeling the weight of it on your head when you’re arching your back. I had the eye contacts in, and I couldn’t see as well. With the old-lady costume, I had something around my waist, and it cushioned the effect of contortion.

Do you have a favorite ugly skill that got used in the movie?
All the wirework was really fun. Also I would say the clip of where I’m on my side and getting hit into the fireplace. It looks so extreme, and it’s such an interesting way to use contortions and fighting.

How did filming those reversed stunts work?
I would wedge into the contorted pose first and then they would fly me out of it. You gotta work backward in your head — naturally, you want to go the other way, but once it gets in your body to do it the other way, then you learn it. It’s weird because it goes against what you’re used to doing. You’ve got to reteach your body.

What was that like collaborating with the stuntmen who weren’t contortionists?
They were very careful about making sure I felt comfortable combining the contortions with the stunts and martial arts. They do it in a different way and then you add in the contortion; it makes it different. They have their knowledge of it their way and then I have the contortion knowledge, so we could come together and create something amazing.

Does each of the contortionists have different skills?
Personally, I do extreme contortion, but the way I do it is much different from some of the other contortionists; the shapes will be different. Each contortionist moves differently, and that gives you a different look. You all bring something new and positive to the table. You see how they do something differently, and one way isn’t right or wrong. I found that very fascinating.

What does extreme contortion entail?
My ribs stick out a lot, specifically when I bend, and it gives more of an extreme look. For some people, it can be too much.

What’s the difference between doing a movie like this and performing at Planet Hollywood?
Performing is done in a way that’s — I don’t wanna call it more beautiful, but you’re wearing a costume with glitz and glamour. You still play characters in both, but movie work is more of an aggressive form of contortion.

What’s the response been from people as they watch the movie?
I told people at work to watch it, and they think it’s really cool. It’s very badass. They’ve been amazed, and I am too.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Day Shift Got Contortionists For Its Bone-Breaking Stunts