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'Shadow' Movie Review

About.com Rating 2.5 Star Rating

By

Shadow movie poster
© IFC
Stop me if you've heard this one before: a sadistic madman holds victims captive, slowly torturing them in a dark, dank basement lair. It sounds like every other direct-to-video "torture porn" movie hitting shelves on a weekly basis, but Shadow offers a surprisingly insightful and socially conscious twist on the concept.

The Plot

David (Jake Muxworthy) is an American soldier who just finished a tour of duty in Iraq and is relaxing with a bike tour of a mountainous region in Europe known as the Shadow. Along the way, he stops at a pub and defends the honor of a local woman named Angeline (Karina Testa) who's being harassed by a couple of thugs (Chris Coppola and Ottaviano Blitch).

Later, Angeline tells him the story of a group of rebels in this war-torn region who years ago took shelter in a nearby coal mine and were burned alive by soldiers. Ever since then, that part of the forest has been rumored to be haunted.

Soon, however, David and Angeline find themselves menaced by a non-supernatural, real-world threat: the two thugs have come back to finish their assault. A chase ensues, and the four find themselves separated and hunted by a mysterious skeletal figure (Nuot Arquint). Is it a ghost, or something else? Whatever it is, it's sadistic and is searching for blood.

The End Result

Nuot Arquint in 'Shadow'.

Nuot Arquint in 'Shadow'.

© IFC
Shadow is an engaging, attractive film that shows great promise of rising above the typical torture porn retread full of wriggling, helpless victims being gouged and prodded for an hour and a half. Ultimately, though, while it's a cut above that sort of drek, it fails to live up to its sizeable potential for a number of reasons.

For one, the script is far too scant -- even for a horror movie. It clocks in at barely over 70 minutes (plus credits), which, granted, leaves little time for the viewer to get bored, but it also allows for few twists, little character depth and limited thrills. The story -- including a nice twist ending -- features refreshing social commentary about the nature of war and the inhumanity of man, but the message is dulled by the fact that there's so little leading up to it to draw you in and get you invested in the characters.

The gaunt, reclusive villain -- dubbed Mortis -- is creepy enough to be a potential horror icon, but he isn't given enough to work with to be truly intimidating. When he isn't tormenting people, the script has him doing silly tasks seemingly written as "[insert icky horror villain-type action here]". Thus, we end up watching him lick a toad and give a plastic anatomy model a sponge bath. Okaaaay...

Similarly, director Federico Zampaglione's instincts seem to be clouded by all the horror movies he's seen in his life. Predictable "boo" scares and frustrating "cutaway kills" abound (although he's more than willing to linger on the torture scenes), dulling the action and scares (or lack thereof).

That said, Shadow is visually stimulating with solid production value all around. Its attempt to be deeper than your average horror movie is admirable, if only partially successful -- which is more than can be said for most genre films these days.

The Skinny

  • Acting: C+ (Solid, though lacking in a certain emotional resonance.)
  • Direction: C+ (A nice-looking film, but relies too much on cliched genre techniques that don't generate genuine scares.)
  • Script: C- (A great concept that needs expanding.)
  • Gore/Effects: B- (Grisly, prolonged torture scenes will make you squirm, if that's your thing.)
  • Overall: C+ (An admirable message, but the horror elements don't draw viewers in enough for it to have an impact.)

Shadow is directed by Federico Zampaglione and is not rated by the MPAA. Release date: October 13, 2010 (on demand).

Disclosure: The studio provided free access to this movie for review purposes. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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