Monday, March 25, 2013

Shadow People

TITLE: Shadow People
SCORE: 3.5 out of 4

I am getting really tired of the "fauxumentary" style. By this I mean a film that splices regular movie footage in with obviously fake "documentary" footage. It takes you out of the film and unless you film the regular movie specifically like a TV-movie and have "reenactment" warnings at the bottom its totally incongruous.

I guess some filmmakers feel that it amps up the suspense. Using low-fi video and handcam for select shots does indeed have a tendency to build suspense, but that is just using the techniques of a documentary film to make your film more realistic, and thus scary. Unless its specifically a found footage movie and plays by all the rules of one, adding actual documentary-style scenes into a fictional film is ridiculous and confusing, and this movie suffers from this heavily. Its torn between being a found footage fake documentary and a regular feature film, this confuses the audience member and is distracting (especially when they're different aspect ratios -- yeeesh!!)

Aside from its narrative troubles, this makes for a tight and taught little thriller. "Shadow people," of course, have existed in popular urban lore for a few decades now -- something other than ghosts and demons, those beings that seem to exist just out of the corner of your eye and disappear quickly when looked at head on. At least, those are what shadow people are in the real world; in this film they are much more malevolent paranormal beings - in fact they KILL PEOPLE!!!! Ahhhhhhh!

These shadow people conform much closer to "the watchers" that people report during incidents of night terrors and sleep paralysis -- beings present in their rooms, eerily watching over them. But then they also stalk them during the day like a vengeful spirit or perhaps an MIB would... this film is very novel in its approach to a boogeyman that already has some mythos built up in the real world. I have no doubt that this film could have real impact on the kinds of things people actually report going bump in the night.

Humorously it also parallels the very real success of radio legend Art Bell, who's Coast to Coast show was primarily politics-based until the Oklahoma City bombing, when classic anti-government rhetoric became unfashionable, he started shifting his show to the paranormal, with a handful of topics being classic staples of discussion - including shadow people! This shift in formats led to a major rise in listeners and propelled the show into mainstream American consciousness. Unlike the character in our film however, Mr. Bell did not become personally obsessed with the subjects of his late night talk show.

Our main character, Charlie Crowe, is more like a John Keel type -- someone who stumbles onto a dark mystery and can't let go, letting the mystery consume his whole life. Of course, Mr. Keel makes a very good living writing his various scary books on possibly real things -- which is another problem of this film. Let me explain...

When you use a documentary style, you bring the film into our world - the real world of consensual reality. And here we have a fairly common paranormal phenomena and our film is devoid of any Brad Steigers, Whitley Striebers, Nick Redferns or or John Keels here. Just some dusty notes from an old sleep disorder study and the diary of a teenager to tie this whole thing together. Yet this revolves around a late night talk radio show -- where are the paranormal investigators?! If this were a straight film we might suspend our disbelief and be happy to think "in this movies' universe, this is a new phenomena," but we aren't afforded such a luxury.

But for its faults it is a very entertaining film and it does its job on the horror side of things - it left me feeling spooked and unsettled. Like many films I review, I wish this had been given another editing once over before  it went out for release. However it does have snappy dialogue, exposition that doesn't bog down too badly, and without need for a lot of splatter the minor effects present in the film are very very effective. There's also very little lag or pacing problems.

Still makes no sense that a wannabe Fox Mulder doesn't show up on the scene though, or why seemingly real footage is mixed with obvious film footage without any explanation... This is why I feel like I have to detract points.

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