Dead Shadows is a French Horror/Sci-Fi film recently released in America on Blu-Ray and DVD courtesy of the good folks out Shout! Factory. Billed as Night of the Comet meets The Thing, that comparison plus absolutely stunning DVD art was enough to set me salivating. I’m also a big fan of French Horror (or “French Extremity”) and hoped Dead Shadows would be a worthy addition to this powerful subgenre. The good news is, this movie is absolutely French. The bad news: Dead Shadows is so short on plot it just barely contains itself as a coherent narrative.
Check out my review after the jump.
Official Synopsis: Dead Shadows tells the terrifying story of Chris (Fabian Wolfrom), whose parents were brutally killed 11 years ago, on the same day that the Halley’s comet could be seen from earth. Tonight, a new comet is appearing and everyone in Chris’s building is getting ready for a party to celebrate the event. As the night falls, Chris discovers that people are starting to act strangely. They are becoming disoriented and violent and it doesn’t take long before they begin to mutate into something far beyond recognition! In a fight for survival, Chris tries to escape from his building with the help of a gun-toting tenant (John Fallon Death Race, Saw II) but will they make it out alive?
When I say that the plot of Dead Shadows is barely coherent, I don’t mean to imply that it’s confusing or non-linear–more like glaringly non-existent. For examples, look no further than the official synopsis above; it says Chris’s parents were killed 11 years ago on the same day that Halley’s Comet was visible from earth. Now, I don’t usually dissect these things BUT: 1) If Dead Shadows takes place in the present and Chris is about 20 years old, then he wouldn’t have even been alive when Halley’s Comet last swooped past. 2) We know that Chris’s mom gets killed, but we don’t even see what happens to his father; the scene is very short and ambiguous and never even slightly explained. 3) The film tells us that the action takes place 10 years after the night Chris’s parents were killed, so why does the official synopsis say 11? I know, I know, this is nit-picky bullshit, the stuff of rants–but the lack of plot is, at times, just plain frustrating throughout.
Clocking in at a slim 75 minutes, every moment of Dead Shadows is essential. That’s why it’s disappointing that so many signifigant questions are simply never addressed. Like I mentioned above regarding the night Chris’s parents died: What the fuck happened? There’s simply now way for the viewer to even postulate theories when so much of the event is literally blank. There’s absolutely nothing grounding the pseudo-science of the film, no clear explanation of what is playing out around us. Are these occurrences being caused by comet dust or radiation? What exactly is the means of transition? Why are some people effected quickly while others turn more slowly or not at all. Is it zombie rules: They bite you and you turn? Let me tell you something, its refreshing that those helming Dead Shadows made such a trim and powerful film–but when the story-arch is filled with such cavernous gaps, then you clearly NEEDED to expand. Seriously, thanks for not boring us, but you’re not doing us any favors if we’re just abandoned abruptly to scratch our noggins.
Before you think this is a shred piece, let me tell you what makes this movie absolutely worthy of a watch: The production is off the fucking hook, from it’s beautiful opening space-scapes to the Lovecraftian creature FX throughout. Writer Vincent Jule and director David Cholewa are clearly John Carpenter protégés (there’s the Escape from New York poster on Chris’s wall in case there was any doubt) and really does deliver some of the grossest and goriest alien FX since The Thing. It’s basically an homage to the Master’s greatness, a tribute to his signature style where occasional innovations merely reinforce the power of the source inspiration. In other words, if you like Carpenter’s The Thing, you are almost guaranteed to enjoy Dark Shadows. Yes, the FX’s really are that good–another fact that makes the tattered story-arch all the more tragic: With more work, Dark Shadows could have been bonified brilliant.
One of the creepiest moments in the film is completely CGI-free: The crazy woman in the park. Dark Shadows is extremely effective in the lead-up to “Armageddon” as Chris crossers paths with a bevy of off-kilter characters. What starts as comic whimsy quickly turns sinister as people seemingly slide into madness. It reminded me of The Signal, when the entre community of Terminus grappled with mind-altering television transitions. The confusion, as you might expect, soon leads to violence, producing interactions reminiscent of those involving the “infected” of 28 Days/Weeks later.
I’m sure the “Armageddon Parties” filled with hot young idiots are loaded with subtext, but they also make for some awesome chaos as the effects of the comet intensify. These cramped and claustrophobic quarters make for some truly disgusting close-encounters. The scenes of alien violence outside are deftly shrouded in shadows–until the creatures LEAP! It’s pretty much a rip-roaring good time from start to finish. Which is why I’m almost pissed that the film is so short and, frankly, incomplete. You guys had a winning combination here–you just needed to give us more of it. Better luck next time.
3 out of 5 Skull Heads.
Official Site: HERE