Despite a title that suggests a horror film, Shadows, not to be confused with Michael Matteo Rossi’s film of the same name, is actually a three-character post-apocalyptic film that combines elements of a thriller with a coming-of-age drama.
Mother (Saskia Reeves, Dune, Our Kind of Traitor) and her two daughters Alex (Lola Petticrew, Dating Amber, My Left Nut) and Alma (Mia Threapleton, Dangerous Liaisons, A Little Chaos) live in an abandoned hotel after an undisclosed catastrophe. They sleep by day and go out at night to hunt for food to supplement what they can grow. They also know not to go beyond the river, because that’s where The Shadows live.
It’s the only life the girls can remember and their mother is the only other person they’ve known. But now they’re getting older and restless, especially Alex. They sneak around in parts of the building they’ve been told are off-limits, and discover pictures of men. Alex even talks about leaving and looking for other survivors which leaves her sister with a hard decision to make.
Director Carlo Lavagna (Arianna, Hip Hop Diaries), working from a script by three writers, Damiano Bruè (The 3rd Day, Moby Dick), Fabio Mollo (Carmilla, South is Nothing), and Vanessa Picciarelli (Florence Fight Club, See You in Texas) mixes Shadows’ two plotlines into what feels like an odd sort of dysfunctional family drama more than a thriller for the film’s first half.
But, in concentrating on the characters, Shadows also sets up the threat that will prove to be the catalyst that moves the film into a more suspenseful second half, the increasingly strange and possibly threatening behaviour of the girls’ mother. Other oddities such as the girls’ sensitivity to, and fear of, sunlight are gradually brought forward as the film goes on. However, it’s the increasingly heavy-handed actions of Mother that finally push Alex to leave.
Thankfully Shadows features strong performances from all three cast members. Those performances manage to help the film get past some rather familiar moments. Much of the film however rests on the shoulders of Mia Threapleton who gives a performance her mother, Kate Winslet, would be proud of. She has to make the transformation from a scared adolescent to an angry young woman determined to find out the truth.
Unfortunately, that truth, when it’s finally revealed, isn’t nearly as Earth-shattering as one might have hoped it would be. Indeed a lot of viewers may well have guessed it well before the reveal as it’s certainly been done before. It doesn’t help that, at an hour and forty-two minutes Shadows gives viewers too much many clues and too much time to figure them out. Trimming ten or so minutes would have greatly helped the film.
Shadows does benefit from a great main location that cinematographer James Mather (Lockdown, Nails) and production designer Joe Fallover (The Lodgers, Extra Ordinary) make feel cozy and homey or labyrinthian and threatening as the need be. They also manage to make the scenes shot in bright sunshine overtly threatening, while still maintaining the atmosphere during night scenes in the woods.
Despite running a bit too long and having a lack of action that may alienate some viewers, Shadows is a solid film that focuses on the people rather than the apocalypse. It’s just too bad that it fumbles at the end and goes out on such a disappointing note.
Red Water Entertainment will release Shadows to VOD and Digital platforms in the US and Canada on November 15th. It will also screen as part of this year’s Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival on November 30th at 3:30 PM.