Shadow Puppets (2007)

JULY 25, 2010


The worst thing about waking up with amnesia and being trapped somewhere with strangers who also suffer from amnesia is that you can’t remember all of the movies you’ve seen that followed the exact same formula, which would probably help you get a good handle on the situation. Thus, the folks in Shadow Puppets take the whole movie to figure out things that any regular horror movie fan would know, such as the fact that it’s not the angry guy (Tony Todd) that is betraying you all, but rather the one guy we thought we could trust (James Marsters), amongst other things.

And it’s a shame that it sticks to the template of these things in terms of who dies, who’s the traitor, etc, because the reason they’re all there is slightly more interesting than usual, and the monster has a pretty unique “back-story”. As we discover, their minds have been wiped in relation to a failing attempt to rehabilitate criminals and mentally disabled folks by wiping the part of the brain that causes such things. Sort of noble! And the monster is the result of someone trying to “wipe” a guy that was in a coma and didn’t have anything left to erase. A lot better than the usual “You all wronged me” explanation we get in these sort of things.

But getting there? Yikes. The movie seems stuck in a loop until that point. Our heroine wakes up, finds Marsters. They talk about how they don’t know who they are or why they are there. Then they find someone else. They talk about how they don’t know who they are or why they are there. Then they find someone else... you get the idea. Every now and then, the shadow monster will pop out of a wall and impale someone with his shadow tentacles, but these moments are all too rare. And it’s unclear why its killing everyone anyway – if its just born out of some non violent guy’s mind being wiped, where are the murderous tendencies coming from?

There’s also one of those “Yeah, OK” movie explanations for keeping the monster at bay, but they don’t follow through on it. Apparently, removing one’s clothes will help you “hide” from the monster – but it only applies to outerwear? So they’re like “take off your clothes”, but they leave their underwear and undershirts on. What kind of bullshit is that? And how would taking OFF clothes help you hide? Does the monster only see cotton and polyester? Every now and then they show a Predator style POV of the monster, and everyone just looks blue regardless of their current state of undress, so I dunno. Maybe it was explained and I just missed it – the Netflix audio mix left much to be desired.

Luckily I was able to hear one particular bit of dialogue loud and clear, and it made me laugh for quite a while. During the obligatory “everyone finds out who they are” scene, Marsters reveals/discovers that he is a lawyer named Jack. Todd then says “I don’t think we’re going to get along, Jack. Because according to this, my name is Steve.” Now, to be fair, he goes on to explain that he’s a criminal, but his unfortunately lengthy pause in between the two lines, and his punctuated line reading for “my name is Steve.” (not “my name is Steve....”), makes it sound like that is the only issue. Jacks and Steves simply don’t get along, I guess.

The digital format is also quite lousy, making a lot of it look like a soap opera. I could not find the actual format they used, but if I had to guess it was some sort of digital setup, filtered in a (failed) attempt to make it look less like digital. Or maybe Netflix was just fucking it up. All I know is, it had some terrible artifacting (jagged lines on people) and made the low-budget CGI monster look even worse. And that’s about the only good thing about the fact that there is so little monster action – any more and the film would start to resemble a cartoon.

Acting-wise, it’s certainly better than the Are You Scareds of the world (and yes, I know Todd was in the 2nd film), since the three leads (Todd, Marsters, and Jolene Blalock and her boobs) actually know how to deliver lines and offer something along the lines of charisma. And Marc Winnick, who I assume is the brother or cousin of director Michael Winnick, is pretty decent too. The rest, eh, but that’s the nice thing about amnesia movies – the actors can get away with being a little bit blank, something that certainly helps the other female actors, who look nice and all but don’t leave much of an impression. I just wish it didn’t take so long for Todd to enter the story, but then again it’s also an overlong movie (105 minutes), so everything is sort of relative.

With some better editing and maybe a little more production value, this could have easily stood out above the other Saw/Cube wannabes. However, the rather pedestrian look, and the fact that the only interesting things about the movie occur in the last 20 of its 100+ minutes, make it a bit hard to recommend. I’d say start it up while you’re folding laundry or something, and then by the time you’re giving it your full attention, Todd will be on screen and the movie will be past the parts you’ve seen a million times already.

What say you?

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