In times of loneliness and self-doubt, Judge David Johnson has often found solace in the comforting wisdom of his bunny rabbit shadow puppet.
You can't hide from your own shadow.
But you can hang around waiting for it in your underwear.
Facts of the Case
A woman (Jolene Blalock, Star Trek Enterprise) wakes up in a white padded room with no memory of who she is. She finds another inmate suffering from the same mysterious ailment. Together, they track down even more amnesiacs. The woman, who eventually discovers her name is Kate, and her pal Jack (James Marsters, Angel), make another terrifying discovery: a shadow creature is loose in the compound and it can kill people with its shadowy tendrils.
So now Jack, Kate and their new-found pals (including Tony Todd as a convict test patient) must find a way out of their prison, while eluding the unstoppable and increasingly blood-drunk shadow creature and, perhaps, unravel the mystery behind the whole thing.
Here we have a slick-looking, decently acted psychological thriller that earns its direct-to-DVD pedigree thanks to some touchy visual effects and a cumbersome pace. There are more than a few good ideas at work in writer/director Michael Winnick's supernatural tale, but none are wholly fleshed out to render the film must-watchable. In short, while not a failure, Shadow Puppets falls short of earning a recommendation and is likely destined to languish in Straight-to-Video Limbo.
Which kind of pains me to say, as I'm a huge Angel fan, I'd like nothing more than to see my boy James Marsters continue to work. His is by far the most interesting character on-screen, and is central in the film's biggest reveal and subsequent disgorging of exposition. The man does well with his material, too, which is a substantial accolade because, like his comrades, it's so dialogue-heavy. Co-star Jolene Blalock's work is passable, though I suspect the fact that she spends most of the runtime clad in a spectacularly ill-fitting set of undergarments will likely earn her a pass in the minds of discerning viewers. Everyone else just bats clean-up, including genre mainstay Tony Todd who brings his "finely-honed" (read: oft-oft-oft-oft seen) growling, bad-ass persona to the mix.
The biggest star is the plot, upon which the success of the entire production rests. Shadow Puppets is essentially a mystery with a smattering of horror elements tossed in. In fact, it feels more like a procedural than a thriller, as the story is dominated by our characters creeping around, making discoveries, and then talking about them. Once in a while the shadow monster will make an appearance, wreak some havoc, and break up the dialogue, but don't be fooled: Shadow Puppets is all mystery, even if the Scooby gang gets a shadow spike where the sun don't shine once in a while. Anyway, the story is actually pretty okay and there's a running question as to if one of the amnesiacs is actually faking, which is answered satisfactorily. And it's the revelations of the purpose of the memory wipes and shadow monster and general covertness of the facility that almost make up for the endless nosing around that precede them. The weakest reveal, however, is the origin of the shadow monster, which comes across as a few degrees north of half-assed.
Actually, despite the sometimes tedious nature of the narrative, the most disappointing aspect of the film is its main attraction, said shadow monster. It's hacky I know to pick on the visual effects of these low-budget outings, but the truth is, the shadow monster looks pretty stupid. Though occasionally the effects are tolerable, when the monster is fully rendered and in view…well, the less said the better. Regardless, don't plan on being frightened.
The disc is solid, however. Sporting a smooth 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and 5.1 surround mix, the film both looks and sounds good. For the extras, you get a tech-heavy audio commentary from Michael Winnick and cinematographer Jonathan Hale and a series of interviews with the cast and crew. Not present: the behind the scenes feature promised on the disc case. Perhaps the shadow monster got to it?
Pros: a decent story, good acting and attractive people tooling around in
The bench is most disappointed in the lack of shadow puppets. Or, heck, puppets in general. And that sentiment applies to all movies, by the way.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Starz Home Entertainment
• Director's Commentary
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