Directed by: Federico Zampaglione
A movie claimed to be the return to Italian horror, has a lot to live up to. Federico Zampaglione’s Shadow has some great moments, and definitely comes with some heavy anticipation tied tightly to its pulpy pale flesh. Yes, it get’s the job done, but at the end of the day, I don’t think we should be hailing anyone before we really know what we are hailing.
An Iraqi war veteran, David finally takes the biking trip in Europe that’s been keeping him alive. He also meet’s his dream woman, Angeline, who saves him one night when his tent blows over a cliff. The two hit it off wonderfully until the two bastards they insulted in a local pub the day before finally find them, and start to hunt them. But that’s only the beginning of his ordeal, as David, Angeline and their hunters soon find themselves running right into the chamber of depravity where a skinny antagonist instantly starts the torture sessions…
There’s something about Shadow that I liked. It’s all in the atmosphere, and the build up of the movie that makes it work, the dedication to the storytelling as it unravels. I also enjoyed a few sudden scares, despite them being classic tricks. Yes, there’s some generic conventions used in Shadow that make me squirm with unease. I won’t list them here, but one would be randomly meeting a stunningly beauty in the middle of nowhere and the chance of her letting David, a complete stranger spend the night in her tent. There’s a shock twist at the end, which I’m sure few will see coming, I didn’t, but then again when it did I instantly thought of two classics that go out on the same note. But we’ll leave it at that, because there’s still enough in Shadow to make it a decent watch.
Bringing David [Jake Muxworthy, who also starred in Zev Berman’s Borderland 2007] into the world of “mortis” is done with ease. Backstory is intelligently retold as he rides his mountain bike up and down hillsides in what at times feels like extreme sport porn. The initial antagonist – kinda stereotype, Buck [Chris Coppola] and Fred [Ottaviano Blitch] – are introduced, and we get a pretty firm idea of what kind of blokes they are. Being everything but Rambo, David steps in when Buck and Fred start hassling the gorgeous Angeline [Karina Testa, who was magnificent in Xavier Gens Frontier(s) 2007] who’s in all simplicity sat drinking a cup of tea in the small village bar they all have ended up being in. So with all characters established it all takes off. Pretty traditionally done and not much more. There’ is although an interesting little glitch that implies “something else” when the barman, stops Fred and Buck from trying to fight with David in the bar, indicating that he has some form of authority over them – and says “No not here, No hunting in here!” It adds something, an external threat, which when one comes to the final act, can read as a metaphor for dangers ahead on the journey David is about to make.
This kind of metaphorical approach returns on several moments, such as when David fails to raise his tent in the strong winds blowing through the landscape, sending his tent off a cliff end down towards trees below which resemble sharp pointed objects which would mean certain death if fell upon.
The mishap with the tent leads to David spending the night in Angeline’s tent, and she establishes the treat of the secondary antagonist – not Fred and Buck that is -, the ghosts that live in the dark parts of the forest. Ghosts that have just like the story David tells Angeline, been born through the atrocities of war.
Inevitably the couple, and their adversaries, Fred and Buck end up captives of he strange figure called “Mortis” [Nuot Arquint]. All “monsters” or intriguing antagonists need to come off mean and intimidating. Zampaglione does it with ease with the old show and then tell. First has Mortis torture the men, and then retreat to his chambers, were it becomes apparent that Mortis is some kind of surviving Nazi with a strange fixation for human taxidermy. OK the picture is pretty clear. Later he digs deeper into the psyche of his antagonist when David see’s reels of celluloid film Mortis is projecting on the walls. 8mm, 16mm even 35mm prints of past and recent wars, act of terrorism and other atrocities Vietnam, The German concentration camps, Srebrenica and even a September 11th reel… Mortis is obviously a sadist and a Mondo fan!
The big problem I have with the movie is that this is Italian and I’m expecting to see a salty Italian production where shit hits the fan and I get to see everything in all it’s glory! I don’t want off-screen torture, cutaway reactions, or suggestive weaponry rose into frame. I want to see what’s going on, and I want it to be in that Italian way showing no mercy, because I can’t help feeling that Shadow is trying too hard to mimic the already made entries into this already tediously formatted to shit blocks niche known as Torture Porn, way to hard. That not saying that the movie doesn’t have some really effective scare moments that even had an old dog like me jumping on the couch.
Karina Testa is critically underused in this film, here she’s reduced to just a pretty face in a stereotype gender role, and damn shame that is. Again, her return in the climax is rather unsatisfying, and as said, there are several movies that already have a similar ending to the one of Shadow, and unfortunately they are better too. Yes, this one works and I’m sure some viewers will be shocked by it… perhaps I’ve just been watching too many movies over too many years and know the tricks of the trade. Then there’s the issue of wandering right into a genre that the Yanks already have laid claim to. How this film can be lumped in with other entries in that niche when it’s pretty tame compared to others. Sure, some fine atmosphere, but torture wise, rather low, and porn, well nothing. If we are going to insist on calling it Torture Porn, then I want cameras to gloat on every gooey detail, just like I mentioned above.
For newcomers to genre cinema this is should be an interesting entry, which I’m sure will scared you, surprised you, and entertained you. I enjoyed it and I really wanted it to work for me, although found it to be lacking in certain areas to qualify for the genre and type of movie it’s being proclaimed as being. But that’s only my opinion, which shouldn’t inhibit you from seeing it; it holds a very high standard and is visually a great looking movie. Considering the obvious love for genre that Zampaglione has brought to this movie, his forthcoming Giallo inspired Tulpa – which I suggest you google up ASAP If you haven’t seen any of the online images - seems to be an impressive ride which just may actually be that one movie to put Italian genre cinema back in the spotlight.
So Good luck Federico Zampaglione, and welcome back when Tulpa is complete.
Shadow is soon to be released by primo numero uno Swedish distributor NjutaFilms.