[BD Review] ‘Shadow People’ Flickers Between Creepy and Confusing

For those who don’t know, for his classic A Nightmare On Elm Street, Wes Craven drew inspiration from a series of articles printed in the LA Times about a group of Khmer refugees who were experiencing disturbing nightmares, some of whom soon after died in their sleep. Now while Craven didn’t need to advertise his inspiration (which was probably a smart thing), a number of films have played on the whole “based on true events” thing to varying degrees. Shadow People (formerly known as The Door) takes this route, but also a cue from Craven and uses the broader idea of Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome (SUNDS), and throws in the paranormal concept of shadow people to boot. According to legend (or Wikipedia), shadow people are shadow-like figures that are seen flickering on walls and ceilings in a person’s peripheral vision, which various cultures have interpreted as supernatural.

Shadow People stars Dallas Roberts (aka Milton from The Walkind Dead) as a late night radio personality Charlie Crow. Charlie hosts the Night Shift radio program, and spends his time talking the talk of the paranormal and supernatural. One night a young man named Jeff calls in with a tale of the “shadow people”. Charlie is surprisingly in disbelief, but a few days later receives a package labeled “Read and believe”. In the package are documents related to experiments performed at the local Camden College by a Dr. Ravenscroft and his research of sleep hallucinations. Jeff soon winds up dying in his sleep, which leads Charlie to become obsessed with the idea of the shadow people, and looks to uncover what he believes is a conspiracy. Charlie isn’t the only one, as Sophie Lacombe, an investigator from the Center for Disease Control (Allison Eastwood) arrives to investigate not only Jeff’s death, but other deaths associated with Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome. Together, the duo begin to uncover just what it is that Dr. Ravenscroft has been researching.

The idea of using the shadow people as the basis for your film, as well as mixing in a conspiracy-theory type of story is an intriguing one. I mean, who hasn’t at some point in their lives laid in bed and have had seen strange shapes stretching across the wall in the room, just out of the corner of your eye? Granted, for me it was usually after watching an appropriately eerie film or TV show, but the notion that there was something else in the room was unsettling. Director Matthew Arnold holds onto this notion, though he leans towards more of the conspiracy thriller type of film rather than outright psychological/supernatural horror. There are creepy moments that will set the tone for the entire film, but not ones that will consistently pop up and scare. Matthews also opts to employ the Blair Witch idea of interspersing the film with video clips depicting comments of several persons with expertise/firsthand experiences related to the the idea of the shadow people to mixed success. Stylistically, I enjoyed the look of the film, which was almost entirely dipped in cool tones, although the outdoor night scenes tended to swallow everything in darkness.

As for acting, it too is mixed. Dallas Roberts, while tolerable, tends to spend much of his time muttering his lines. Whether it’s his interpretation of the character to be like that, or he’s unsure of the role, I don’t know. Allison Eastwood, daughter of Clint Eastwood, fares okay in portraying the skeptical type that eventually realizes what’s really going on. Judging from her consistently straight tone, however, she doesn’t seem much interested in the material. Almost everyone else involved tends to lean towards over-acting, taking you out of the film.

As you can guess, Shadow People has a bit of a problem. The problem being is that it doesn’t know what it is. What starts out as a documentary-style film with clips of people reacting to this Youtube video that apparently has “exploded with hits” (it hasn’t), shifts towards Roberts and company doing their X-Files conspiracy episode, all the while mixing in more talking heads that have you thinking this is another film-within-a-documentary film. It wouldn’t be so bad if the acting from the talking heads didn’t take you out of it all. Plus, who has production values for those clips that were purportedly from Youtube? Not me.

I don’t want to make it seem like I hated Shadow People. I didn’t. Arnold kept a tight pace while injecting tension when needed, though it just unfortunately didn’t simmer. The visuals and the lack of reliance on CG was also a plus, as was the melding of two different ideas for a story. It was the lack of a balance that hurt this film, coupled with some weak acting from the documentary bits that the film relied on to further the mystery of it all. The bait-and-switch with the Youtube clip didn’t help, either. Had the film undergone a bit of editing in the story department before production started, balancing out the two ideas, the film probably would’ve gone over better. You’re probably better off watching The Mothman Prophecies or something similar.

Video/Audio:

The 2.40:1 1080p transfer as mentioned above is filmed in a blue filter or desaturated afterwards, making everything look cold or dull. It’s a nice touch, although it tends to swallow detail during the darker scenes. Otherwise, the detail is excellent.

As for the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track, the soundtrack threatens to drown out the dialogue at certain points, ruining any sort of emotion that was going on during those scenes. Thankfully this doesn’t happen throughout the entire film. Otherwise, the dialogue is crisp and free of distortion.

Extras:

The sole extra included on the disc is a 12-minute piece called Shadow People: More To The Story. The featurette focuses on the phenomena of sleep paralysis and the idea of seeing things/people while in this state. It’s an interesting piece that could’ve easily been used as piece for the talking heads portions of the film.

 

Official Score