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John’s Horror Corner: Shadow People (2012), a finely and tactfully crafted indie film that came out of nowhere!

November 24, 2013

MY CALL:  Creepy and tense, this film was finely crafted, acted and filmed from start to finish such that I am excited to see whatever writer/director Matthew Arnold does next.  MOVIES LIKE Shadow PeopleThe Mothman Prophecies (2002), Pulse (2006) and White Noise (2005) all follow the same effective formula and fear factor.  Also try The Day (2011), The Shrine (2010) and The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh (2012), three other movies that came out of nowhere and pleasantly surprised me.  ALTERNATE TITLEThe Door.

This movie opens with a disclaimer: The following motion picture is based on an actual case of mysterious deaths and the viral video known as “Sleep Study GR16 1971.”  We have used footage and interviews with real people whenever possible.

Late night radio host Charlie (Dallas Roberts; The Grey, Tell Tale) is more than a little displeased with his job.  His divorced life is equally dissatisfying as he is serially disrespected by his ex and their son (Mattie Liptak; Quarantine 2: The Terminal).  At an all-time low in his career he gets a call from a frightened teenager who claims to see ghostly shadows at night.  After readily dismissing the teenagers story, he receives a package from the disturbed caller containing documents pertinent to a strange sleep study in which the subjects all reported seeing shadowy creatures as well.  The teen calls again to talk about the study and his fears.  He concludes that “when you think of them, they come for you.”  During the call the teen describes his fears, reveals he has a gun, fires, and well, things seem to have escalated along with Charlie’s ratings.

His producer Tom Dimartino (himself and Christopher Berry; Django Unchained, Killing Them Softly) suggests that he visit the caller, who is now in the hospital after shooting the wall, to follow up on the story for the sake of ratings.  Charlie goes to the hospital to meet the boy only to learn that he died in his sleep during that first night of his stay.  Now a bit perturbed, Charlie goes to Camden College (where the sleep study was conducted).  He does some library research and a student librarian assistant (Mariah Bonner; Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, Freerunner) who takes an interest in his show happens to find out what Charlie’s researching when she fixes a paper jam in the copier he was using.  She was found dead by her roommate that night.

With this second death, Charlie becomes a believer and makes his radio show all about it.  His radio show is now abuzz with talk of drugs, mental illness and schizophrenia as callers flooded the airways with likely causes of how two healthy young people died in their sleep.    “Real footage” of locals’ and witnesses’ testimonials add flavor.  Over time, the calls shift from attempts to explain the sleeping deaths to callers’ accounts of experiencing sleep paralysis and sightings of shadowy figures.  Charlie questions, with so many telling the same story “Could it all be real?”

Sophie (Alison Eastwood), a CDC researcher rep, meets with Charlie to discuss the recent sleep-related deaths.  Autopsies revealed no pathogens, heavy metals or health history to explain the deaths.  Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome is the suggested cause.  But Charlie believes in something of a more primordial, sentient cause.  His mission to reveal the truth leads to a national media blitz…will it work?  Can he stop these deaths?

As we stare at the screen waiting to sleuth out the next rogue shadow we are left with a haunting notion: The shadow people know when we think of them and then they come for us…so how do you stop thinking about something?

Whereas some of the shadow effects were perfectly executed in my eyes, others were not ideal.  For example, running shadowy figures may make me jump, but that’s not the same as eliciting fear.  The shadows that are still and suddenly noticed in the background, or slowly moving, or out of sync with the caster of the shadow…THOSE are the scary effects.  THOSE are chilling.

Overall I was pleased with the jump scares.  Watch this in the dark.  This film is good at building tension as you anticipate seeing something weird in the shadows, much like the intensity of Paranormal Activity (2007).  It’s creepy.  You know it’s probably about to happen, then it happens, and you’re still shaken by it!  The ending, while not some super clever twist, was elegant and simple and I appreciated it.  From start to finish, I was very surprised and pleased with this.  I find none of the typical, in fact expected, flaws of horror: over-exposition, poor character development, stale writing, effects demonstrative of a forced and over-extended budget, frightlessly empty scares, inconsistency in pacing or story and, perhaps worst of all, lame endings indicative of a lack of vision.

This solid film was written and directed by Matthew Arnold, who has done basically nothing else in terms of feature length films or horror.  Like The Day (2011), The Shrine (2010) and The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh (2012), this film really shocked me.  While not as original as the other three in story or style, Shadow People was without a doubt finely crafted, acted and filmed such that I am excited to see whatever Matthew Arnold does next.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. November 24, 2013 7:58 am

    Nice review–it really makes me want to see this. I love indie horror movies.

    By the way, this may seem like a random question, but did you ever see I Spit on Your Grave — the alleged cult classic? I just saw it for the first time a few weeks ago and would love your opinion. Thanks.

    • johnleavengood permalink
      November 24, 2013 10:49 am

      There’s something about older horror movies…they just aren’t as scary or intense. The lack of innovative camera work, scene/cutting style, and the fact that the envelop hadn’t been pushed as far back then. The original I Spit on Your Grave (1978) was disturbing, extremely disturbing even today to an audience unseasoned to the…errr…torture/rape/exploitation subgenre. But, in my opinion, today’s experienced horror-goers will not find intensity in this classic. Rather, I think they’ll recognize cavalier filmmakers and their innovations. Rape may not sound like an innovation, but it’s all in the tact with which the story is told, right?

      The intensity for today’s audiences can be found in the 2010 remake
      (https://moviesfilmsandflix.com/2011/07/06/johns-horror-corner-i-spit-on-your-grave/) and it’s 2013 sequel (https://moviesfilmsandflix.com/2013/10/02/johns-horror-corner-i-spit-on-your-grave-2-2013/)?relatedposts_exclude=1984. These recent films do a far better job at instilling a sense of dread or urgency in the audience, but have taken for granted the female empowerment play. They make it all about “how far can we push the revenge torture”, “how intense can the rape be” and “how can we make this harder to watch.” They did a good job of all that. But what they missed was the one thing that I feel the original did better even to date, capturing a sense of satisfaction at the end. The boat scene in the original rolls into the credits and we’re torn as to whether our antiheroine is in some manner of shock, or if she found some vengeful catharsis. In either case, it sort of felt like a victory. The modern movies simply feel like they start with brutal rape scenes and then shift to the latest installment of the Hostel franchise.

      What did you think?

      • November 25, 2013 3:47 am

        Wow, I have really met my match here with you on discussing horror films lol. Take that as a compliment. Well, my answer might shock you. I have only seen the 1978 version and frankly, I was in awe of its frankness, rawness and brutality. And it is very hard for a “horror” film, if you want to call it that, to disturb me. I cannot see that movie getting an R rating even today. It was just too brutal and graphic.

        I have never seen a rape sequence that brutal and drawn out before. From what you say here, I would not want to see the Hollywood-ized remakes/sequels to this movie. Enough is enough. In the original, we believed the anti-heroine–as you refer to her–and that she can do what she did because her revenge was so justified. But I would not want to see the others simply because the original rape scene was enough to last me a lifetime. And if the victims in the later movies transformed into female versions of Bruce Willis, that would really turn me off.

        Frankly, I thought the 1978 director, whose name I forget now, did a very good job of creating suspense and overall terror. The movie had the same artsy tone and feel that I remember getting from Let’s Scare Jessica to Death and some other horror movies of the period. I think the director’s rather straightforward, matter-of-fact approach worked well. It also reminded me a little bit of the original Last House on the Left, where the Hollywood theatrics and big name stars were replaced with a believable revenge story using B actors. For me, the original Last House on the Left will always be a cult classic. I did not bother with the remake of that one only because the poster and previews for it looked too contrived. Nobody can duplicate what Wes Craven did in that first one.

        So what do you think of my Grave comments? And did you see the LHOTL remake and if so, did you like it?

      • November 25, 2013 3:53 am

        Hi John. Just went to the link you sent and noticed that your partner did not watch the remake. But I do believe your comments about the Last House remake confirms why I did not want to see it:

        “…It’s just that the original felt more “real” and tested my moral thresholds while the new one simply depicted some brutal, hard-to-watch-by-topic-alone sort of scenes…like Saw or Hostel; purely gratuitous and meant for those who want just that.”

        Still looking forward to your reply ………

  2. johnleavengood permalink
    November 25, 2013 12:44 pm

    All fair opinions and I agree with basically everything.

    The 1978 I Spit on Your Grave rape scene was intense and more drawn out than any could have anticipated, and it was very effective. And yes, the original far more than the remake (and sequel) offer a great deal more credibility. But man was I Spit on Your Grave 2 equally disturbing in a very different way–more a product of innovative direction (creative circumstances) than blunt grittiness.

    You mentioned you fear of the revenge Bruce Willis metamorphosis…well, yes. The 115 lb girl (who’s clearly never seen anything in the gym past the cardio station) in I Spit on Your Grave 2 (2013) evidently moves 180 lb men into the sewers with ease and suspends them by chains without an engineering degree and pulley system to speak of. Not sure how that happened. As for Last House on the Left’s remake, the revenge got strangely bonkers with microwaving heads and whatnot.

    Without a doubt I agree that the originals of these movies are more disturbing in the sense that they feel more “real” whereas the newer installments are more disturbing in a fashion that we’d never believe would happen (not that they’re impossible). When I saw the originals of the discussed films I sat back quietly and rarely emitted my sick laugh (in response to an awesome kill). Instead I more likely quietly looked to the person next to me and uttered “holy shit” or just “whoa” under my breath. The intensity of the remakes is an entirely different flavor designed to turn heads away from the screen and please gore/torture-hounds (which I also am). They’re intense, but instead of being haunted by them I call my bros and tell them “how epic this one scene was” and instead of wincing at the credibility of these sick scenarios I literally laugh out loud in celebration of the over-the-top, envelope-pushing torture/rape/revenge nonsense on the screen before me in the remakes.

  3. David permalink
    February 24, 2015 5:04 pm

    Interesting with the blend of a ‘real’ story line and actors portraying a companion dramatization of ‘real’ events. Kind of Blair Witch without the disorienting amateur camera work. The trigger for the shadow people seemed to be those who had seen the researchers film depicting students linked together to perform ‘telekinesis.” Unclear to me how this linked to the shadow people and the precursor static/electrical disturbance that announced their presence. Even once during the film there was a scene shown repeatedly in a much better movie, White Noise, of a shadowy figure on a monitor. Occulus pulled off the seemingly random confusion generated by a wicked reflective surface and White Noise had a practioner of the static arts to pull the story into focus.

    Shadow People wavers on the edge of potentially being truly disturbing and capable of making us nervous in ill lit rooms (best scene in my opinion was the hat rack and its shadow that lead to a complete removal of all furniture…similar problem in Arachnophobia) but stops short of using more shadows until the very end when the shadowy hand attacks our heroes son. Too little, too late.

    Movies that should have lead the way for Shadow People….
    Ghost…some creepy shadows there dragging souls to hell.
    Drag Me to Hell…..the shadows there creep under doors and flit across windows in broad daylight and are disturbing.
    White Noise……the three shadowy figures that reappear throughout the movie leave the hair on the back of your neck tingling.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      February 25, 2015 9:51 am

      A fine summary of well-used evil shadows, David. INDEED!

  4. Victor De Leon permalink
    February 24, 2015 5:50 pm

    I started this movie a long while back and never finished it. I think I still have my copy. Going to pull it and check it out all over again. I remember I had just watched a John Cusack flick with Roberts as the killer and saw he was in this too. Looking forward to it, now. Thanks for the review, nice job!

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