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Shadow People (2012)

Anchor Bay Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 3/19/2013

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/24/2013

I'm sure that ever since the very first person made the very first penny off of a movie that hucksters have been trying to get people into movie theaters by any means necessary. In the beginnings, movies sold themselves due to their sheer novelty. Once television arrived, things like 3D and air-conditioned theaters were used to sell movies. In the 60s, producers like William Castle came up with all sorts of promotional gimmicks to fill the seats. (My favorite was when the double-bill of Women and Bloody Terror/Night of Bloody Horror promised "$2000 cash if you die while watching this film". What am I going to do with $2000 if I'm dead?) In the 80s and 90s, this sort of hard sell diminished, even with the competition from home video. However, things changed in 1999 with The Blair Witch Project, when that film used an online campaign to try and convince the public that the story was true. This basically created internet marketing for movies, something which we still see today. Shadow People took a page from that book, as a promotional video for the film as placed on You Tube, one which was supposed to look real. The movie even opens with a mention of this video. If only as much work had gone into the movie itself.

Shadow People opens with a scene which is set in Cambodia in 1979 which has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. The story then jumps to the U.S. in the 90s. Charlie Crowe (Dallas Roberts) has a late-night radio talk show, in which he invites listeners to talk about a variety of topics. However, he gets few calls and his ratings are on the decline. His homelife is no better, as his ex-wife (Anne Dudek) has married a more successful man, and his son (Mattie Liptak) has no respect for him. Things change when a young man calls Charlie's show, and claims that someone is after him. The man then leaves files at Charlie's house. When the man calls again that night, he is panicked and gunfire is heard. Charlie calls the police, who find the man alive and well. However, he dies a few hours later of unknown causes. Charlie inspects the files left by the man, all of which address something called "shadow people" -- creatures who stalk humans at night, first causing paralysis and then death. When a second, similar death occurs, Dr. Sophie Lacombe (Alison Eastwood) of the CDC comes to town to investigate. Together, she and Charlie try to learn if the phenomenon is real.

Have you ever heard of the "shadow people"? I certainly haven't and I've been known to watch all kinds of unexplained phenomena TV shows. The film offers an interesting style, as the movie presents itself as a dramatic recreation of actual events. (The Fourth Kind did something similar.) A scene showing the actors will be shown following, or sometime side-by-side with scenes featuring the "real" people. This is all presented as being factual, as we'll see a scene with Dallas Roberts playing Charlie Crowe and then see footage of a completely different man named Charlie Crowe being interviewed. The problem is that it's really difficult to take all of this at face value. An internet search shows that some of the speakers are real (see the extra features section of this review for more), but Charlie Crowe and Dr. Lacombe appear to be fictional. The aforementioned You Tube video is noted at the beginning of the film and we get to see during the third act of the movie. It reminded me of one of the Dharma training films from Lost.

The real problem with Shadow People is that while it's working so hard to convince us that it's real, it forgets to build a real story or attempt to be scary. Perhaps there's not that much out there about the "shadow people", but Writer/Director Matthew Arnold, being a writer, could have made something up, as they present themselves as one of the vaguest creatures in cinema history. They appear at night and people die...and? Where do they come from? What do they want? Do they go bonkers in that 30 Days of Night place? Not only do we get very little information about the "shadow people", they don't get much screen-time. The idea of an apparition which comes into your bedroom at night to mysteriously kill you is an undeniably creepy one which has a lot of cinematic potential. But, Arnold fails to deliver on this front. The movie could have been immensely creepy, but I didn't hesitate to turn off the lights at bedtime after watching it. As for the story, it never goes beneath the surface -- Charlie is down on his luck, the incident boosts his ratings, he investigates, the movie ends. The movie feels incomplete.

On a purely technical level, Shadow People has its ups and downs. Arnold could have been more sparing with the "real" footage, as it often slows down what little footage there is. The movie's score is highly erratic and we get pulse-pounding music over scenes where nothing is happening. John Ritter look-a-like Dallas Roberts, who will be familiar to fans of The Walking Dead, does a good job as Charlie, a man who goes through many emotions in the story, but he shouldn't have been asked to carry the movie. Low-budget horror films have always mined urban legends for their material, and I wish that Shadow People would have done more to shed some light on this subject.

Shadow People failed to make me afraid of furniture on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 28 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only mild grain at times and no defects from the source materials. The colors look fine (although they are muted), and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good, but the image is notably flat at times. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.3 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The music mentioned earlier fills the speakers and provide notable subwoofer action. The stereo effects are good, showing nice separation. This some creative use of surround effects at times, especially in the few scenes in which the "shadow people" are in the room.

The lone extra on the Shadow People Blu-ray disc is "Shadow People: More to the Story" (13 minutes) contains additional footage from interviews with two of the "real" people presented in the film, Paul Taitt and Dr. David J. Hufford. An internet search turns up Dr. Hufford as a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania, so I guess he's real, but this piece does nothing to truly explore what in the movie was meant to be true.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.