JUNE 17, 2010
I seem to be the only reason that my local Blockbuster stocks newer horror movies, as most of them never seem to be rented out (even stuff with an eye-catching cover like Life Blood is usually fully stocked). But The Shadow Within has been rented out every time I’ve looked since it came in a few weeks ago, which led me to believe that it was some sort of rare gem. It boasted no stars, the cover was just a bunch of browns and grays, and the back made it sound like The Asylum’s decade late ripoff of The Sixth Sense. In short, it would seemingly only appeal to those who obsessively rent every horror movie that comes in, i.e. me.
Well now that I’ve gotten to see it for myself, I can see the appeal - it’s a very atmospheric, fairly original and quite good ghost film in the vein of (mega smashes) The Others or The Orphanage. But it also felt sort of like a TV movie, not unlike the Six Films To Keep You Awake series from Spain a couple years back, making it a perfect “at home” viewing selection.
It’s also a period horror film, which are becoming rare these days, and even though it's an Italian production, it’s shot in English, which is always a plus. This type of movie lives and dies on the strength of its visuals (subtle scares and such), so it’s always nice to not have to be looking at the bottom third of the screen the whole time, but not have to be taken out of the movie with bad dubbing either. So you get the unique locales with none of the caveats!
The only issue is that’s it’s a bit slow, with a resolution that isn’t exactly a shocker. If I were to compare it beat for beat to (again) Sixth Sense or The Others, it’s probably got an identical pace (and it’s a half hour shorter than those films to boot), but knowing how it will all end up makes it feel somewhat lethargic, something those other films didn’t have to worry about due to their knockout twists. NOTE - I am NOT spoiling the ending of this film by comparing it to those two famous “Dead the whole time” movies - this film actually has no twist per se, it just has a very obvious conclusion once you meet all of the characters and see how they treat one another.
But if you’re patient, you will be rewarded with an above average little chiller, bolstered by a terrific lead performance from Laurence Belcher, the child actor making his debut performance (!). Maybe it’s just because Will Smith’s ego trip (aka Karate Kid) is the #1 movie right now, but there’s something really refreshing and rewarding about seeing a genuinely good performance from a young actor who is required to use his talent, not his name. And he really carries the movie - he’s in pretty much every scene, reducing everyone else to supporting roles - there’s no Nicole Kidman or Bruce Willis fighting for top billing with the kid. There’s a heartbreaking scene where his abusive mother tears his favorite toy apart, and the kid’s wordless expression of grief is award-worthy.
“Who cares about the acting, tell us about the scares!”, you say? Well, depends on how you like them. As I said, they’re mostly of the subtle variety, often without even a music stinger to tell you that something scary is happening (including one in the final shot). When the ghost does manifest into something eye-catching, it looks a touch goofy, but I’ll give it points for a novel approach - the ghost appears almost like a child’s scribbled black-crayon drawing, stretching and moving along in 2 dimensions along the floor or snow or whatever. The animation is a bit off sometimes (especially when the camera moves) and it’s certainly not going to give you a nightmare (the film’s mirror-image DVD cover is creepier), but it’s an interesting idea; I can’t think of another film using the same approach, at least not in a serious movie; I’m sure some kid-friendly Goosebumps type things have taken a similar approach.
The editing can be a bit too choppy at times. There’s an attack late in the film that’s almost confusing because it happens so quickly, and another couple instances where it felt like they cut away from a reaction or end of a line too quickly. The film has an R rating, so perhaps it WAS a TV movie (or edited to meet television requirements), with the rating just sort of slapped on (most Sci-Fi originals get R ratings too, despite not having any difference on DVD than their “TV-14” version).
Of course, if the disc had any extras, my questions might be answered. Sadly, it’s as bare-bones as they come, without even the trailer to justify our purchase. And that is probably why it’s such a popular rental - it’s a good movie, but it doesn't strike me as the type you’d only want to watch more than once, and it's without any supplemental material to make a consumer feel like he’s getting a good deal. Yet, the retail price is the same as the average 2-disc deluxe edition that will take you the better part of a weekend to get through. With online rentals, video on demand, and all this other crap causing a down-turn in DVD sales (not to mention the more alluring Blu-rays), these smaller companies need to start playing smart with their films - bundle them together for the price of one, and/or include copious (and GOOD) extras, or sell them at reduced prices right off the bat. I’d hate to see the DVD industry fall apart the way the music one has because the folks in charge weren’t adapting to the consumers preferred way of obtaining films.
Yeah, The Shadow Within is really going to kill the DVD industry, BC. Just shut up.
What say you?