Judge Daryl Loomis believes Joy Division has no place in a horror movie.
The apocalypse has begun…
One of my favorite things to review is new foreign horror. I get more excited about these releases, nearly all of them unknown to me, than anything else. It's easy to get tired of American horror, with all its remakes and reboots, especially when the genre films of Europe, Asia, and Latin America are so refreshingly and brutally original. But you can't bat a thousand and a movie like Dead Shadows is a good reminder of this. Even in the golden age of international horror, sometimes a movie is just awful.
After his parents died in a murder-suicide the night Halley's Comet was visible, Chris (Fabian Wolfrom) has been a recluse, gaming online and watching his hot painter neighbor, Claire (Blandine Marmigere), through his peephole. It's been eleven years since that fateful night and, tonight, another comet is speeding around Earth. Everybody is freaking out, expecting the end of the world, and as it gets closer, people start acting strange and violent. Soon, they start mutating and Chris has to get out of his building, but can he survive the monsters creeping in the shadows?
I actually like the premise of Dead Shadows. A comet destroying the Earth is an ancient fear across the globe. Outside of overblown disaster movies, death by comet doesn't really come up very often. So I was happy to see that, as well as some pretty believable performances from a group of relative amateurs. As the movie went on, though, it became clear that this idea from writer Vincent Julé and director David Cholewa, both first-timers, was truly half-baked and, ultimately, quite lame.
There is a definite bad taste at the end of it because of the Syfy level creature effects, but the troubles start way before that. After a strong opening and some decent character work in the first few minutes, the movie stalls out and never really gets going again. Too much time is spent on the crappy life that Chris leads and, soon, he becomes too pathetic to really care about. But there's a point in the movie, right as the comet comes near, that everything in the movie changes senselessly. Suddenly, he's not only empowered, but psychotic, and there's no explanation for that or anything else that will occur.
On a theoretical level, I can understand the Lovecraftian appeal of having tentacled creatures emerging with little explanation, but that's always been the problem with cinematic adaptations of Lovecraft. His elder gods are stuff of the mind, too horrific to comprehend, but when you put that stuff in the movie, viewers are limited by the filmmakers' often stunted imaginations. If you can create an effect to put it on the screen, one can easily reckon with the horror and the Lovecraft effect is lost. Here, Cholewa tries to get around that problem by not explaining anything, but that doesn't make it better; it just makes it seem like they didn't really think out their idea before committing it to film. If you're a fan of the Asylum ripoffs, you might like Dead Shadows, but I see no further enjoyment here.
Dead Shadows comes to Blu-ray from Shout! Factory in a strong package. The 2.35:1/1080p transfer looks quite good, with deep black levels, accurate flesh tones, and strong detail throughout the frame. The sharpness of the image exacerbates the cruddiness of the effects, but that's a pitfall of high definition. The 5.1 Master Audio track is excellent, as well, with great activity in the surround channels and crisp dialog and music. That's not exactly great shakes, given the poor quality of the music itself, but that's not the fault of the sound design.
Shout! Factory has given Dead Shadows (Blu-ray) a decent slate of extras. It starts with a couple of deleted scenes that, while I was hoping there would be some kind of explanation through them, they don't really add much to the movie. Better is the thirty minute interview with Cholewa, who details his hopes for the movie and his inspirations. He seems like somebody who has the right head on his shoulders to make something really good in the future; this just isn't it. A pair of video effects featurettes detail the before and after of the creature business, and a pair of trailers round out the disc.
Dead Shadows shows potential at the start, but gets worse and worse as it goes along. When the creatures start to emerge, the movie winds up feeling like the French version of an Asylum picture. If that's not a way to dissuade horror from watching this, I don't know what is.
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