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Shadow Land (2024) Review

Shadow Land is the third film from stuntman turned director James Bamford to come out in the past few months. Air Force One Down and Jade were, to put it mildly, less than satisfying, is the third time the charm? Or is this strike three for Bamford?

It starts with an elderly man lying restlessly in bed. He pulls a rifle from under the covers and shoots a masked intruder who appears in the bedroom doorway. But as he’s about to unmask the intruder, who isn’t even bleeding, he suddenly wakes up in his bed, the man he shot is gone, but he sees, or thinks he sees, a figure outside watching him.

He goes outside, and we see other men watching him as he looks for the masked man. They’re not a threat, though, they’re his Secret Service detail. The old man is Robert Wainwright (Jon Voight, The Painter, Runaway Train), formerly the President of the United States, now living in retirement at his secluded ranch, Shadow Land.

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Apparently this isn’t the first time this has happened, either. One of his detail suggests removing all the live ammo from his house because “I agreed to take a bullet for him, not from him.” This is followed by a flashback to his time in office when he ordered a raid on what might or might not be a nuclear facility in Astovia, the same fictional country that featured in Air Force One Down, despite the fact there are Americans still trapped in the country. As it turned out, the reports were false, and the attack was a bloody failure.

The script is by J.D. Zeik whose previous credits range from the cult films Ronin and Witchblade to the 2008 Steven Segal stinker Pistol Whipped, and Ian Corson who previously wrote the script for 2000s Falling Through and directed a Fatal Attraction knockoff, Malicious in 1995. The lack of any other recent credits for either of them should have been a red flag.

Indeed, the film feels dated enough that I wouldn’t be surprised to find out the script for Shadow Land was written in the early 2000s as well. Wainwright feels like he’s based on George W. Bush and if you substitute Iraq for Astovia the connection becomes clearer, especially after you find out the company that may have had a hand in it is an oil infrastructure conglomerate called Burton Group, which sounds a lot like Halliburton doesn’t it?

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There’s a scene about twenty minutes in where Wainwright dreams he’s watching the troops get killed and then seeing them and civilian casualties in hospital. That, combined with the title, made me think Shadow Land might be going in the direction of Dreamscape. The second film to get a PG-13 rating, it featured Eddie Albert as a US President being stalked by an assassin who can enter his dreams.

Wainwright is surrounded by a cast of characters that includes Jasper (Sean Maguire, V for Vengeance, Once Upon A Time) a former aid whose daughter was in Astovia when it happened, Rachel (Rhona Mitra, Skylines, Hard Target 2) a ghostwriter brought in to help Wainwright with his autobiography despite hating him and his policies, and Dr. Elliot Davrow (Marton Csokas, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Sleeping Dogs) a psychiatrist brought in to assess the former president’s mental condition. He also happens to be Rachel’s ex-husband. All of whom might have reason to want him dead, or committed.

Unfortunately, Shadow Land isn’t anywhere near as inventive or interesting. It’s a dreary and predictable conspiracy thriller that pops up a couple of interesting ideas and then lets them go undeveloped in favour of the usual tropes, including whether or not Rachel and Elliot will get back together. That may be the most suspenseful of the film’s plot threads.

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Worse, it can’t decide if it wants to focus on the possible scandal attached to the attack on Astovia and the subsequent regime change or on whether someone is out to get Wainwright or if it’s all in his mind. The result is near endless talk and next to no thrills. The eventual reveal isn’t particularly surprising, although we’re given little build up to it, and the climax it leads to is as lifeless as the rest of the movie.

Given its story line, Shadow Land had the potential to be a solid thriller. Unfortunately, the writers did nothing with it. Indeed, it’s so badly written by the end of it, I had more sympathy for the villain than I did for the supposed hero.

Paramount, via its Republic label, released Shadow Land to theatres on May 31st, and it’s currently available on VOD and Digital Platforms.

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