Studio: Scream Factory
Director: David Cholewa
Writer: Vincent Jule
Producer: Julien Dunand, David Cholewa
Stars: Fabian Wolfrom, Blandine Marmigere, John Fallon, Rurik Salle, Johanna Seror, Sylvain Dubois, Baya Rehaz
A comet passing over Paris transforms the people below into nightmarish creatures.
Chris is instantly recognizable to any average genre fan as someone met before, perhaps reminiscent of a familiar friend, or maybe even vaguely resembling a mirror image. As a boy, Chris is introduced covered by bed sheets bearing a cartoon image of the Ghostbusters’ Slimer. Ten years later, his interests do not appear to have changed much. One apartment wall hosts an Italian one-sheet for “Escape from New York.” Against another leans a bookcase of Prima strategy guides. Set decorators usually insult a pop culture nerd’s intelligence with poorly realized dens of geekdom, but Chris’ desktop littered with Jason Voorhees Mez-Itz figures and a mini-bust of Duke Nukem make him a truly relatable blood brother.
His father takes a knife to his mother in the prologue, and nothing more is made from that piece of backstory except to solidify Chris’ fear of the dark and of comets passing in the night sky, since that happened to be what was going on during that night of familial homicide. The abrupt “ten years later” jump to a present-day comet event is inadvertently indicative of a running theme in director David Cholewa’s “Dead Shadows,” which is that developing threads seem to be forgotten when the story suddenly shifts gears to a new momentary focus.
In just under 40 minutes, which is half of the movie’s total runtime, Chris sparks a romance with his bohemian neighbor Claire, makes a tenuous association with his other neighbor John after being accosted by a gang of thugs, listens to a lunatic rave about an imminent alien invasion, fends off the advances of a sexually aroused aggressor, helps a father and son assemble a telescope, quaffs a drink that causes him to collapse in a puddle of his own vomit, and watches a man have sex using a penis that turns into a tentacle creature. Wait, what was that last one?
“Dead Shadows” establishes a number of people, relationships, and arcs while creating a tangible world just on the edge of surreal. The simultaneous oddity and accessibility of it all makes for a modestly fascinating environment one step beyond normal, yet far from being Dali-esque. Cholewa is clearly aiming for a Lovecraftian setting meant to evoke the quiet dread of slithering shadows and unspeakable madness.
That visceral aspect of “Dead Shadows mostly works, too. Unfortunately, once the pieces are put in place and the mood is fixed, the story hits a brick wall and resorts to being a traditional end of the world horror melee, with the unique exception being that these zombies sprout tentacles when they mutate. Weird romance, newfound alliances, and a struggle to reconcile a forgotten father-son bond severed by murder are threads left untied by a second half featuring cool creatures like a half-spider, half-woman hybrid and not too much more.
For what is a tellingly low budget, the filmmakers squeeze a considerable amount of value from every penny on the screen. CGI enhancements in movies of this level are usually eyesores, and while they are not in league with the economically made effects of Gareth Edwards’ “Monsters” for example, the digital visuals here are among the better efforts anyone is likely to see from off-the-shelf software and a high-powered laptop.
While the movie has a quality look, the audio is shockingly poor. It is rare that a low-budget film can earn a passing grade in the cinematography department yet so utterly fail in sound effects. When the climax of the film turns into an extended arena battle from the video game “Dead Island,” the fistfights and action sequences play as even more generic thanks to chintzy sounding thuds, whaps, and pows that give back some of the goodwill earned by the imagery.
It is too bad that “Dead Shadows” chooses not to do more with its characters just as their interesting traits start unfolding. It is equally disappointing that the atmosphere created does not have anything deeper to offer aside from a slight Cthulhu Mythos take on a routine undead uprising tale. But being only 70 minutes long without credits, it is also hard to expect too much more from a film that may be doing all it can in the first place.
“Dead Shadows” never takes a rake to its dirt bed, which is definitely a missed opportunity, but there are seeds of inspired cinematic ideas to be found buried within. It is up to the audience to decide if it is worth it to dig for themselves, or wait for a movie that opts to deliver a fully ripened crop instead.
Review Score: 65