Judge Gordon Sullivan's shadow wobbles a lot, but it hasn't fallen yet.
"'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe"
After I watched the entirety of Shadow Falls: Volume 1, I tried to explain what I'd seen to a friend. I said, "I watched the first eight episodes out of thirty-two of Shadow Falls. It's like a show made by someone obsessed with Twin Peaks, Silent Hill (the game, not the film), and the poem 'The Jabberwocky.' Oh, and there's a guy with a cross on his chest made out of scar tissue." He said "That actually sounds pretty cool." Oh, if only he was right.
Facts of the Case
The town of Shadow Falls disappeared mysteriously twenty years ago. Some people are still drawn towards it, while others seem trapped in it. There's some business with a guy wielding a sword, another guy with an axe, and a nurse, but it barely begins to coalesce in these first eight episodes. As the series unfolds, we'll learn what happened to Shadow Falls and why it still holds power over some.
As of this writing, reviewers here at DVD Verdict have a lot of input into what films they review. Usually, that means I only have myself to blame for the horrible movies that come my way. However, sometimes I am surprised by the films that cross my desk. Such was the case with Shadow Falls: Volume 1. I had never heard of it, and in fact avoided even reading the back cover before putting it in my player, hoping to be surprised by an overlooked horror gem. That didn't work out.
The series opens with an extended shot of a young girl alone in a classroom. When her teacher appears, the young girl recites Lewis Carroll's "The Jabberwocky," accompanied by a montage of odd images, including a guy with sword and a woman dressed as a nurse. When she's done with her recitation, she is invited by the teacher to chomp down on a human hand. The rest of the episodes make about this much sense, combining something concrete (like the reading of the "The Jabberwocky") with something abstract (the surreal images). Most of the "plot" in each episode is fairly cliché: a girl being chased or a car full of teenagers murdered. The more abstract stuff can be interesting (the aforementioned scar tissue cross being the best example), but the two aspects of the show are poorly integrated. It's obvious the director wanted to tell the story in a non-linear manner, and the surreal images set that up nicely. However, the plots of individual episodes aren't interesting enough to sustain interest as the overall story unfolds. The actors, for the most part, do fairly well, but the choppy nature of the narrative doesn't give them much to work with. As the credits for the last episode rolled, I seriously wondered why anyone had bothered releasing this series on DVD.
What I didn't know when I sat down to watch Shadow Falls was that it was recorded with consumer-grade equipment, features performances by unpaid actors, and was originally intended for Internet distribution by the director, Kendal Sinn. Furthermore, the entire affair was created as a way for him to practice the techniques of filmmaking. Instead of sinking into Internet obscurity, the series was picked up by The Horror Channel and shown on its Web site. This knowledge doesn't make Shadow Falls more fun to watch, but with the context it becomes easier to appreciate. Sure, it's an amateur effort, but with that in mind, there is enough of interest for me to want to encourage Kendal Sinn to continue making movies. However, I'm still not sure this series needed to be released.
My qualms aside, this is a pretty excellent presentation. Considering the origins of the video, it looks as good as it can in this widescreen anamorphic transfer. Visually, the palette is dark and muted, and there is little fine detail. No, it doesn't look much better than VHS, but for something intended for the internet, it could look a lot worse. Although I'm pretty willing to give the video a pass since the presentation doesn't detract from the film's low-budget aesthetic, I'm not as forgiving towards the audio. The distortion is distracting, but I'd be willing to overlook it if the mix wasn't so unbalanced. Because the music/effects were mixed higher than the dialogue, I had to adjust the volume constantly, which only brought the poor quality of the source into sharper relief. The extras, however, are where this set really shines.
Kendal Sinn's humility is his greatest asset, and it's on full display during the extras. He clearly and regularly admits to the humble origins of Shadow Falls, and even though he is obviously pleased with the product, he never tries to claim that it's "art," or really even more than a laboratory for his experiments in making a movie. In fact, the featurettes are the highlight of the set, infinitely more interesting than the episodes themselves. He and his producer Sally Cummings offer numerous insights into the origins of Shadow Falls in the "Endings, Beginnings, and Clues" featurette, while their camaraderie is evident in their commentary for the episodes. The tour through the locations that comprised Shadow Falls demonstrates their ingenuity, as numerous sets which appear connected are instead hours apart. "From Day One" features Kendall Sinn providing commentary over production stills while he dissects the trailers he cut to generate Internet interest, often before the episodes themselves were finished. Many of the stories get repeated between the commentaries and featurettes, but it never became tiresome. The cast interviews are slightly disappointing, as so many of them don't know any more about their characters than we do, and those that do know won't say anything. There's very little value in watching six people in a row say they don't know where Shadow Falls is going. The "My Pixie Valentine" material is interesting from a filmmaking perspective, but didn't really grab me. The three Horror Channel commercials show that Kendal Sinn has potential as a director, while the promo for Volume 2 offers more of the same.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The one aspect of this set that I can recommend without reservation is the music. I stuck the disc in and let the menu play while I finished some task before watching Shadow Falls. Usually by the second repetition of any menu music I'm ready to pull out my hair, but I actually found myself enjoying the music playing on the Shadow Falls menu. The series contains more of the same, with the music seeming leaps and bounds more polished than anything on the screen.
I wasn't a fan of the show, but this disc is easy to recommend to those who saw Shadow Falls on The Horror Channel. Those who are interested in low-budget filmmaking might also find something to admire and/or emulate in the extras. Everyone else is urged to rent or avoid this release, but keep an eye on Kendal Sinn in the future.
Shadow Falls is found guilty of not living up to its potential. Kendal Sinn is acquitted for his humility and obvious desire to become a better filmmaker. Elite is commended on their willingness to give an excellent release to such a niche title.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Elite Entertainment
• Commentary with Director Kendal Sinn and Producer Sally Cummings
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