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Thursday, March 14, 2013

SHADOW PEOPLE -- DVD review by porfle

Sometimes I don't really know how scary a movie is until after I've watched it, when I have to walk in and out of dark rooms at night by myself or go to the bathroom down at the dark end of the hallway.  And especially after I go to bed and lie there with my thoughts, the scariest of which always seem to pick that time to start swirling around in my mind.  (Which is why I refuse to ever watch THE EXORCIST again.)

Yes, I'm pretty susceptible to suggestion, which the 2012 horror film SHADOW PEOPLE, now on DVD from Anchor Bay, exploits for all it's worth.  First of all, it tells us that what we're seeing is a true story, complete with purported documentary footage and interviews with the actual participants, and that, yes, people have died terrifying deaths due to the film's subject. 

Then it tells us that we're all vulnerable to such a fate, the likelihood of which has just been increased simply by our having watched the movie!  Oh, well, thanks a lot.  Like I really needed that.

Anyway, I'm mentioning all this because the movie itself isn't all that consistently scary beyond a few scenes in which people have chilling bedtime experiences with sleep paralysis and fatal visitations from "shadow people", which are well-staged and quite unsettling.  The rest of it plays like a conspiracy thriller, with late-night talk radio host Charlie Crowe (Dallas Roberts, WALK THE LINE, 3:10 TO YUMA, THE RIVER WHY) getting a call from a troubled teen plagued by terrifying visions who later dies mysteriously in the hospital. 

Following up on the story, Charlie discovers that people are dying after his brief contact with them simply because they're now aware of the shadow people and are thus prone to being visited by them.  He uncovers suppressed information surrounding the strange research of a Dr. Ravenscroft, who induced unnatural sleep states in test subjects and inadvertently captured a shadow person on film during one of his controlled experiments. 

As Charlie delves deeper into this mystery, his own growing fear and crippling paranoia are vividly depicted by Roberts (who reminds me of John Ritter) and director Matthew Arnold, who keeps the swiftly-paced story consistently tense.  The "X-Files" level oddness and oppressive conspiracy-theory aura are augmented by frequent intercutting of the real Crowe and other witnesses in documentary footage, including a CDC (Center for Disease Control) agent named Sophie Lacombe who joined forces with Crowe in an attempt to discover a biological contagion responsible for the deaths.
Sophie is ably portrayed by the ever-lovely Alison Eastwood (TIGHTROPE, MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL), daughter of Clint, with a shaky skepticism that gradually erodes as the evidence piles up.  When they discover the most convincing proof of all, Sophie tries to convince Charlie not to reveal it to the public due to the potential harm it could cause to the impressionable.  Facing termination from his radio job if his ratings don't rise, Charlie must make a decision: go public with the Ravenscroft film (which will then go viral on the Internet), or deny the whole thing and destroy his career. 

With all this other busy plot activity swirling around, SHADOW PEOPLE doesn't always have time to indulge in the kind of basic scary-type stuff we're expecting.  The few really spine-tingling scenes are effective enough to cast their lingering influence over the rest of the movie, though, while the mystery behind Ravenscroft's experiments and whether or not there really is a "shadowy" conspiracy to hide the truth keeps us guessing. 

Is there any validity to the claims that this is all based on fact?  Or that there's an actual disease called Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome (SUNDS)?  Or that the "documentary" footage we see during the film is genuine?  It all contributes to the creepiness of the movie, to be sure, but if you want to know more, you'll have to find out for yourself.  I have no idea and don't really care to follow up on it.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  The bonus feature is a short documentary called "Shadow People: More to the Story." 

The scariest part of SHADOW PEOPLE is wondering how it will affect me later on, when I turn out the lights and get under the covers and my mind starts doing all those funny little things it seems to enjoy doing to creep me out.  That's when a movie that doesn't seem all that scary at the time can start doing things to your head.  The makers of this one are counting on that, too, considering that its tagline is "Now you will see them, too."  But if you're one of those non-impressionable, hard-to-scare people who laugh at such efforts to creep you out, you'll probably laugh this one off, too.

Buy it at

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