Studio: Good Soldier Films
Director: Joshua Fraiman
Writer: Adam Tomlinson
Producer: Brigitte Kingsley, Adam Tomlinson, Tasso Lakas
Stars: Sarah Jurgens, Adam Tomlinson, Nick Baillie, Nola Augustson, Rebecca Amzallag, Alison Louder, Celest Chong, Iryna Sidaras
While coping with a troubled marriage, a haunted woman looks for answers regarding her waking nightmares of a shadowy hat man.
“The Man in the Shadows” marks at least the third thriller in as many years to tackle the subjects of shadow men and sleep paralysis. “Shadow People” (review here) took a “The Fourth Kind”-inspired approach to concocting a fiction and “found footage” take on the topic while Rodney Ascher’s “The Nightmare” (review here) mixed documentary confessionals with stylized dramatizations. “The Man in the Shadows” is slightly different in that it aims for a straight horror-suspense story instead of a reality-blending hybrid. “The Man in the Shadows” also distinguishes itself by being the least provocative entry in this trilogy of unrelated shadow man films.
Rachel Darwin is coping with a career crisis, a cheating husband, addiction recovery, and as if things were not bad enough, regular visits from a shadowy figure in a fedora. This “hat man” isn’t confined to Rachel’s recurring nightmare of a horrific childbirth, though. Whether as a distorted blur in a photograph’s background or as a flicker in an eye corner, the hat man also manifests in waking daylight, leading Rachel to believe she is supernaturally stalked by a sinister spirit.
Rachel’s husband Scott thinks the visions are hallucinations of a subconscious dealing with the stress of their marriage. Kooky companion William at her group therapy meetings believes Rachel suffers from the same haunting affliction he has. While Scott struggles at repairing the couple’s broken bond, Rachel and William set off to learn more about the origins of the shadow man and the nature of their night terrors.
“The Man in the Shadows” boasts an “inspired by true events” tagline. Writer/co-star Adam Tomlinson clarified at the movie’s Dances with Films 2015 post-premiere Q&A that the extent of this “true story” consists of a one-off personal experience in which he briefly saw a hat man and subsequently learned it was a worldwide phenomenon. Also revealed during the Q&A was the film’s short 12-day production schedule and shooting script that excised 50% of the material written into the original draft. From the look of things, the producers settled solely on keeping only scenes that were fast and easy to shoot, as the movie consists of a whole lot of talking, and not much else.
“The Man in the Shadows” is the kind of boring where activity takes place onscreen and words are actively spoken, but little of it comes with forward momentum. It’s like one of those lunchtime conversations you have with a coworker merely to pass time, even though you and s/he are only engaging in forgettable small talk to fill an empty space with some semblance of action.
A movie with this premise should be mortaring bricks of suspense while building a foundation of tightening terror. Instead, people pontificate pointlessly on what would be a perfect way to die, on possible explanations for sleep paralysis that are never explored further, and on half-formed thoughts regarding scientific ideas and conspiracy theories behind the phenomenon. None of it adds up to a hill of beans.
That’s when the realization comes that “The Man in the Shadows” does not actually have a plot. Rachel is curious about the hat man’s motives for stalking her, but other than an aborted Google search and perfunctory perusing of a loon’s newspaper clipping collection (people still collect physical newspaper clippings?), she doesn’t mount a specific effort to sort out her situation. Rachel ambles casually from scene to scene, happening to exist in whatever mundane moment has some vague connection to her hat man visions. There isn’t a backstory identifying what the hat man may be after, either. Other than Rachel’s husband attempting reconciliation, no one has a clear point A to point B arc motivating movement with a discernible destination in mind.
Actress Sarah Jurgens has a striking screen presence, but Rachel is mired in such malaise that her personality never magnetizes an audience connection. Her husband Scott has the charisma of a wet sock, although this blame may lie less with actor Nick Baillie, a Canadian incarnation of “Game of Thrones” actor Aidan Gillen, and more with the screenplay’s painfully forced attempts at instilling wooing charm into his dialogue. The limited chemistry between this core couple is only slightly more than that of gorgeous Rachel’s wholly spontaneous and ludicrously unlikely sexual interest in unkempt crackpot William.
“The Man in the Shadows” is a framework for a narrative more nebulous than a shadow man and just as unable to materialize into a solid shape. The film looks fine cinematically, but there isn’t enough substance for those fascinated by the sleep paralysis phenomenon to engage with an interest level running any hotter than barely mild.
Review Score: 45