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Friday, August 1, 2008

SHADOWS LIGHT -- DVD review by porfle

The opening titles sequence of the supernatural thriller SHADOWS LIGHT features an exorcism and contains what are probably the most effective images in the entire movie. Father Cuth Abelard (Tom Phillips), who apparently specializes in such work, succeeds in expelling the evil force but is physically and emotonally exhausted. Thus, he's ordered to return to his hometown in Kentucky for a two-week vacation, little suspecting that here he will encounter the most grueling and perilous good vs. evil battle of his lifetime.

Father Cuth meets a pretty blonde waitress named Dana (Tucky Williams), whose sister Evan (Jessica Kline) works as a stripper. When Evan starts running with a fast crowd that revolves around mysterious local tycoon Ashton Lagares (John Schoering) and eventually becomes romantically involved with him, Dana begins to fear for her safety. And for good reason, since Lagares is a pawn of Satan. Father Cuth discovers Lagares' plot to spread his evil influence over the entire community and beyond, and must spring into action with the help of a warrior angel (Marshall Fields) and an immortal creature known as a Djinn (Vince Bingham), who is part angel and part human but lives in the shadows between their worlds.

Director Stephen Zimmer and his cast and crew display plenty of enthusiasm and conviction, but they generally lack the finesse to carry it out. Action scenes aren't that well-staged, with one lightsaber battle (okay, they're flaming swords, but they look like lightsabers) between Lagares and the Warrior Angel looking particularly awkward. Much of the exposition is conveyed by having people talk while taking leisurely strolls, which tends to get a little repetitive.

As for the acting, there are two or three standouts among the cast, including Cynthia L. Allen as Lagares' delightfully wicked accomplice Lily. A malicious MILF who literally sucks the life out of her hapless male and female partners, Lily is the most interesting and exciting character, and you may be surprised when you see the actress who plays her without the wig and makeup--they look almost nothing alike. Vince Bingham is also good as the Djinn, thanks in large part to a pretty cool makeup job, and Tucky Williams is likable as Dana. The rest of the cast tend to come off as either amateurish or overly melodramatic, but at least they give it their all.

Aside from some nice makeup effects on Lily and the Djinn, we also get a cool Grim Reaper-like creature known as the Soul Collector and a not-so-cool monstrosity that Lagares morphs into right before the climactic battle. The Warrior Angel looks pretty stunning the first time we see him--wings outstretched, eyes aglow, he seems to be wearing a reflective outfit that makes him appear to be made of light. Later, though, he just looks like a guy with a white wig, white clothes, a couple of limp wings sticking out of his back, and boots. It's too bad they couldn't have sustained the impressive effect of that first shot. A lot of poor-man's green screen and cartoony CGI are used here as well, and the effect varies widely in quality. Even when these fantastic creations and visuals aren't entirely successful, however, it's still fun to see talented SPFX artists doing what they can with a meager budget.

The DVD is 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with 2.0 sound. There are actually three commentary tracks here--director, cast, and production--along with a photo gallery, a 17-minute featurette of actor interviews, and an almost 40-minute-long conversation between effects artists Dave Workman, Sven Granlund, and Matt Perry.

I can't really urge you to run right out and get SHADOWS LIGHT expecting it to be awesome. As an epic battle between good and evil, its reach exceeds its grasp by a wide margin. But as with all low-budget independent features by filmmakers who actually care about what they're doing, it's interesting to see how Zimmer and company try to overcome their limited resources to create the best and most impressive movie they possibly can.

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