Review: SHADOWPLAY (2019)
A private detective is hired to find a missing person, in this case, a young woman. That’s been the start of countless books, movies and TV shows. In Shadowplay director Tony Pietra Arjuna mixes this with a dose of fantasy. The result is a neon-lit Neo-noir that dives into Kuala Lumpur’s underground.
Anton (Tony Eusoff, Terrorville, Revenge of the Pontianak) is an unlicensed private investigator working for Dan Hamzi (Megat Sharizal). While Dan is gone, Mrs. Numan (Susan Lankester) approaches Anton to find her missing daughter Lamya (Juria Hartmans, Future Sex).
As he delves into the case, it awakens memories of his own troubled childhood. But what is the connection between them? And how does The Gaunt Man (Radhi Khalid) figure into all of this?
Arjuna has referred to Shadowplay as “a love letter to David Lynch”. And more specifically to the supernatural aspects of Twin Peaks. And if that makes it sound like this is a very strange film, you are right. It’s actually a little too strange for its own good at times.
Not only is the plot full of twists, but it’s also told in a non-linear style. As we see things happening, we’re never sure if they’re occurring now, a flashback or a premonition. Or if it’s really happening at all. Anton seems to take some of his cues from a “Choose Your Own Adventure” type book. The choices and page numbers, along with his choice, appear on the screen. And just as you can backtrack in those books, we see scenes played out more than once. Sometimes the same, sometimes changed.
A plot like this tends to work better as a short, such as Everyone Laugh At Leanne. The longer the film goes on, the harder it is to keep it all straight. The film also needs to give the viewer enough information that they have a point of reference. Keeping the audience guessing is a good thing, leaving them hopelessly lost is another. And that’s how I felt more than once during Shadowplay.
As a result, Shadowplay is frequently as frustrating as it is beautiful to look at. And it is a very beautifully shot film. The neon colours that light most of the film give it an almost otherworldly feel. Especially during a sequence at a dance school that is reminiscent of Argento’s Suspiria. It doesn’t hurt that Kuala Lumpur seems to be a very photogenic city. Add a wonderful synthwave score by Stellar Dreams and you have an impressive-looking film.
The result is something like what we might get if Michael Mann directed a script by David Lynch. If you don’t mind frequently being confused if something is happening, yet to happen or already happened. Or a figment of the protagonist’s increasingly stressed sanity, you’ll have a good time with Shadowplay.