Awaken the Shadowman
After the mysterious disappearance of their mother, estranged brothers reunite and discover an unknown supernatural force.
Woodrow Wilson III
An intriguing prologue. A good story set-up. Jean Smart’s name flashing by in the opening credits. And a beautiful credit sequence, complete with music seemingly lifted from the library of the late, great Bernard Herrmann. Sounds pretty good, right? Well…
So what went wrong? We’ll get to that.
Awaken the Shadowman held its World Premiere at the TCL Chinese Theatres in Hollywood, as part of the 20th Annual Dances with Films.
The Morris brothers – Adam (James Zimbardi) and Jake (Skyler Caleb) haven’t had much of a relationship, since a fiery tragedy took the life of their father – and subsequently collapsed Adam’s relationship with his mother Evette (Designing Women’s Jean Smart). So when Jake calls Adam out of the blue, asking that he return home to help search for their missing mother, Adam does so. He brings his wife and baby back to where he grew up. There’s already been an ongoing search for Evette, via the kindness of a strange, almost cult-like group called the Gateways – headed by a creepy teenager named Lawrence (Raam Weinfeld). As the search for Evette intensifies, discoveries are made and the mysterious Shadowman begins hanging around the family – particularly Adam’s baby.
The film borrows heavily from the work of Ira Levin. More than a few times, I was reminded of feelings or moments out of Rosemary’s Baby (the paranoia and weirdo cult-vibe) and The Stepford Wives (the overly-pleasant demeanor of this strange group of people) – minus, of course, the eerie quality of those classic pieces.
Performances were okay, but no one (including Jean Smart) did anything special or noteworthy here. It’s all very blah and uninspiring; but never downright bad, until you examine…
… the work of Sophie Labelle as Adam’s former high school friend Angela – and harbinger of doom – which was just dreadful. Angela shows up at Adam’s door – looking and acting like a crack-whore, warning Adam about the Gateways. We see her only once more in her trailer (looking like a set piece out of The X-Files) and each time she’s on-screen, you’ll be completely removed from the film. There’s nothing authentic about her performance and you’ll be reminded of that old acting term – “indicating”. She’s not inhabiting the person she’s portraying, she’s pretending to be this whack-job. Big difference.
And since I brought up the fabulous music from the opening credits, let me further discuss the score. Despite my praise of those opening cues, I was not a fan of the music (score by Douglas Pipes). Pipes has composed for such treasures as Monster House and Trick-r-Treat. Frankly, I don’t recall the work he did on those films, but I do at least remember that the music did not distract. His work on Awaken the Shadowman seemed to be all over the place. You’ve got the Herrmann-esque music of the opening, several cues reminiscent of Carpenter and then some sort of tinny tinkling music-box/wind-chime cue which gets repeated over and over. Despite the fact that wind-chimes sort of play into the story (later), this chintzy sound never felt right in the film – certainly not when you have already used those initial lush and menacing tones, feeling like something out of Vertigo.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Shadowman was done with mostly practical effects. Clearly, it’s some dude in a completely black body suit, with creepily-extended fingers. There’s something to be said about the effect of a real person interacting with the actors – particularly in a frightening sequence involving the baby.
The introduction of Evette’s suspicious ex-boyfriend Tom (Robert R. Shafer) and his mechanic-friend goons, does little to move things forward. It actually only offers up a chance for the filmmakers to shoot in a creepy junkyard at night, and for Adam to hear the words, “Are you one of them?” The fact that Tom has little to do with anything in the story, just makes this detour totally pointless. Any other character could have added that extra suspicion aroused by “Are you one of them?” These scenes felt like filler and why the goons were so weird and angry, made no sense.
And speaking of the junkyard sequence, there was a moment which would have had consequences in the real world. The fact that the event is never answered to in the script – just leaves gaping holes of logic. And the weirdo introduction of Glenda (Casey Kramer) and her “child” also feels strange. Would a charred corpse be that fresh and moist so many years out? It felt like an easy way to get the special effects people to do something cool – while overall feeling pointless.
And another big piece to the film – in the brief epilogue – doesn’t ring true. In this next paragraph, there will be some slight SPOILERS. I don’t particularly like to do that, nor do I make it a habit – but to explore my problem, I have to address specifics in the film. So skip the next bit if you wish to keep everything a secret.
Adam’s obsessive quest for his baby daughter in the film’s final moments doesn’t add up. Sure, a father or parent will do whatever they can to ensure their child’s safety. But the problem here is that all throughout the film, most of the time spent with the child was with Beth, the mother. Adam was more prone to go out searching for his mother, leaving behind his wife and child with his weirdo brother and all of these “Gateways” folks hanging around. With the sense of imminent danger, he didn’t seem to particularly care about the well-being of that little baby back at his mother’s creepy old house. So in the climax and the epilogue following – it doesn’t jive with the character’s behavior the rest of the way through. Parental love is automatically assumed. But if the filmmakers are expecting the audience to feel for Adam’s loss – then they better do a super, bang-up job of making us believe that Adam’s connection to his little girl is one for the ages – one to be written about in history books. Otherwise, it’s a big old NO. And sadly, that’s the case here.
Awaken the Shadowman isn’t particularly bad.
Perhaps a better way to phrase it – it’s not particularly good. Most of the performances are okay. And there’s some creepy images, but it’s not engaging, not suspenseful and not worth your time.
The film is scheduled for release on July 25th.