Shadowland, (not to be confused with Shadowplay, Dreamland or any of several other Shadowlands), begins by informing us about a 19,000 mile stretch of dense, ancient forest in the Scottish Highlands. That forest is only slightly less dense and impenetrable as Shadowland’s opening minutes.
In a series of unexplained and seemingly unrelated sequences, an old man (Tony Greengrass, A Spanking in Paradise) disappears into a trap door in an abandoned building. A young man named Kane (Gordon Houston) meets the very pregnant Sandy (Lily Cooper) while another man (Keenan Ben) has nightmares of what looks like a covert operation gone wrong. All while an overly loud electronic score that occasionally sounds like Boards of Canada plays on.
The man with the nightmares we find out is Cam, ex-military turned private security. He’s lined up a job that should be easy money, escorting an ambassador (David E Grimes) and his family to a function in rural Scotland. He recruits Elaine (Amelia Eve, The Haunting of Bly Manor) to round out his team and they set out.
But easy money is rarely easy and they run into an ambush. Taking shelter in an abandoned barracks they get some good luck when something kills off their attackers. Their luck turns however when they realize that whatever it is, it’s not done killing.
Shadowland is the first feature from writer/director Simon Kay and it shows. The attempts to create mystery at the film’s start only create confusion. The badly staged kidnapping attempt. Clichés like Cam’s romance with the ambassador’s daughter Dillon (Rebecca Finch, The Mermaid’s Curse, Reign of Chaos) and a traitor within his team.
Eventually, we find out that the crazy old man is Kane and the scenes with Sandy happened in the 1980s on his way to the base. Whatever is out there is the result of his experiments. If this sounds familiar it’s very similar territory to what David Ryan Keith covered in The Dark Within and Redwood Massacre: Annihilation. Right down to the deserted base in the Highlands. It’s also not a million miles removed from The Rizen and its sequel The Facility.
Unfortunately, Shadowland is way too long on talk and short on action. A plot like this has to embrace its own implausibility and pile on the strangeness. Instead, we get a lot of arguing, creeping around in the dark, and flashbacks. It feels like half of the film is set in the past, and despite that, I still wasn’t sure just what the creature was. I do know it’s invisible and can possess bodies that keep the budget down. But whether it’s demonic, alien, or from another dimension we’re never told.
When someone finally goes running through that ancient, dense forest I wasn’t surprised to see the trees were all planted in a row. And there were plenty of freshly cut stumps. They couldn’t even get that right.