March 19, 2013
Dallas Roberts as Charlie Crowe
Alison Eastwood as Sophie Lacombe
Anne Dudek as Ellen
Mariah Bonner as Maggie
Shadow People live among us, lurking in our peripheral vision. But what do they want, and what can radio personality Charlie Crowe do to ensure he and his listeners live to see another day, Shadow People free?
I think any feature that inspires an hour or two of investigation is a piece of work worthy of a watch. Matthew Arnold’s directorial debut,Shadow People successfully succeeds in luring the viewer into believing there may be some factual evidence to support the crux of his film. And, to an extent there is, although the “facts” behind Shadow People’s driving force really don’t have anything to do with the characters themselves so much as the longtime belief of “Shadow People” and their influence on and within folklore.
So far as I can tell, Charlie “Crowe” Camfield is nothing more than a creation of the imagination. A character who undergoes a believable transformation, not an actual individual tied to one specific, documented case. However, Arnold sells the documentary infusion extremely well, splicing pieces of “actual footage” into the picture periodically. These tidbits are surprisingly effective. There isn’t all too much to see in the way of this supposed real footage, and I think Arnold’s decision to minimalize the documentary element of the piece lends a sense of validity to the production. He never goes overboard attempting to sell this archival footage, he simply incorporates a sprinkle here and a dash there to add a unique dynamic to the film’s narrative. It works in thwarting the immediate thought that this is just another mocumentary.
And that’s why I was forced to invest some time in studying this little case… that doesn’t seem to exist. However, Shadow People – or at least their place in the realm of pop culture and urban legends – are very real. These mysterious figures have been floating around the campfire for eons, wriggling their way into belief systems, spreading like wildfire with each naïve soul to pass on the mythical legend. According to numerous websites, these fabled creatures have never been proven to represent anything positive or negative. They exist, in the minds of some, and that’s all there is to it. Well, they’re not very nice in this film.
Now Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome is in fact a real, recognized phenomena that seems to have originated (at least according to documentation) among Hmong refugees in the late 1970’s. Arnold did his research, as the film incorporates these facts – smoothly, without forcing them down our throats – and uses them to manifest a measure of suspense: Are we witnessing genuine monsters from some form of… alternate existence, or are people dying as the result of a known but remarkably rare affliction? This particular exposition isn’t the base of the very real fear that the film conjures, but again, it feels like it adds a sense of realism to the production.
As you’ve probably noted, I haven’t dug too deep into the details of the story, despite having outlined the film’s content. That’s a conscious decision on this end, as I think the less you know of the picture’s details, the more likely it is that you’ll enjoy the flick for what it is: straight forward, creepy fun with one kick ass performance and lots of tense atmosphere.
This little sleeper features some top notch editing and a chilling soundtrack to accentuate the polished visuals Arnold gives us. Watch for (what I feel is the picture’s great anchor) a riveting performance from Dallas Roberts (Milton, of The Walking Dead), as Charlie Crowe, a jaded radio personality who sees his life turned upside down after fielding a phone call no radio voice ever anticipates. To be completely honest, this was the first time I’ve seen Roberts front a feature length film – despite years in the business – and he does a wonderful job. There’s still a certain quirkiness in the man’s demeanor, but this production proves, without a shadow (puns not intentionally delivered) of doubt that he’s fully capable and prepared to lead more motion pictures in the future.
Shadow People will not win everyone over. The particularly cynical will leap out of their seats to call bullshit at the first opportunity that presents itself. But those with an open mind, just hoping to catch an unsettling image or a disconcerting concept crawl into the spotlight should really enjoy this one. Arnold’s direction and writing are smooth and well-calculated and the cast is convincing enough to raise an eyebrow. The special effects, sometimes bare bones simplistic, sometimes a bit more complex with some computer assistance required, are a treat. This is a stirring flick, and in truth, I’d be holding back if I called Shadow People anything other than an outstanding success that far exceeded expectations. 2013 is still a young year, but (much to my surprise) Shadow People has already established itself as one of 2013’s most inspired efforts.