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Shadow Puppets (2007)

Starz Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 7/24/2007

All Ratings out of
Movie:
Video:
Audio:
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/8/2007

For decades now, we've had video games based on movie, dating all the way back to the E.T. game for the Atari 2600. (And who can forget that gem?) And over the last few years, we've seen a number of movies based on video games. (None of which have been very good.) But, have you ever seen a movie that may have started life as a video game? That's the exact feeling I got while watching Shadow Puppets, and anyone who's played Resident Evil or Silent Hill would most likely share this notion.

Shadow Puppets opens with Kate (Jolene Blalock) awakening alone in a padded cell, dressed only in her underwear. She screams and pounds on the door, but no one responds. A temporary power outage causes her cell to unlock and she finds herself in a corridor full of similar cells. Soon, she meets Jack (James Marsters), Charlie (Mark Winnick) and Stacy (Diahnna Nicole Baxter). All are dressed similarly to Kate and all are in the same predicament: Not only do they not know where they are or how they got there, they have no memory of who they are. The group begins to explore the facility and soon encounters a monster which seems to be comprised of shadows, and the creature is deadly. Kate and the others find a few more people, including a man chained to a wall (Tony Todd), and start to find clues to where they are and who they are. They also discover a locked exit. But, will they elude the shadow creature long enough to survive?

Shadow Puppets has the sort of story which people seem to either love or hate. A plot concerning a group of people who don't know who they are or where they are may seem trite and if handled incorrectly, can be a lame starting-off point. Now, this shouldn't be confused with the "I don't know what reality is" movie, such as Jacob's Ladder or The Abandoned. This is more of the "I need to find out who I am" story. Opening a story where the audience is just as clueless as the characters certainly is a new concept in films, but it's something which has been greatly explored in video games, and again, Shadow Puppets really reminded me of some recent games.

In reality, this was probably due to budget constraints, but writer/director Michael Winnick has made a wise decision to not lump too many ideas into the movie. We start with a group of people who are sparsely dressed and don't know where they are, and from there, they find clues to answer those questions. Some may be bored by the fact that the group doesn't find very much to go on, but the story builds at a nice pace as they examine items in the adjacent rooms and then begin to learn about themselves. The pacing does drag a bit in the middle, but the story continues to move forward as Kate and Jack contemplate their identities, but also focus on finding a way out of their strange predicament.

All of this raises the question, is being trapped with no memory of who you are enough? The reason that I ask this is that the shadow monster in the film feels very superfluous and pointless. Granted, the added possibility of being killed by a bizarre creature generates some tension in the story, but the monster is used, seen, and discussed so rarely that it feels like an afterthought. The characters are so busy not trusting one another that the viewer often forgets about the monster. And when we get the explanation about what the monster is...itís incredibly unsatisfying. Perhaps Winnick felt that the monster would push the film into a genre which would be more appealing than a paranoid thriller, but the monster adds nothing to the film.

So, Shadow Puppets is a mixed-bag. We have an interesting story which, unlike many other movies, invites the viewer along on a journey with the characters. But, the filmís monster feels out of place. However, the movie has two other aspects which tip the scales in the wrong direction. First, the story does contain some plotholes, but my biggest has to do with the characterís actions. In the story, the characters want to know who they are and where they are, and, in theory, they are searching for clues. But, there are at least two scenes where they are surrounded by papers (once on a bulletin board and another on a desk) and they donít bother to search them! The scene with the bulletin board in the background goes on and on and I kept screaming at the screen, ďCheck the bulletin board! Even if itís an announcement for a yard sale it could tell you something!Ē. The other issue with the film is the acting. The commentary implies that the film was shot very quickly, but some of the scenes feel like fast, first takes. Jolene Blalock, who, as far as I can tell, is an experienced actress, is the worst offender here, as many of her lines sound as if sheís simply reading them and not acting them. Her stilted and amateurish performance hurts the film in the early going. Also, a minor but notable error occurs midway through the film. There are documents which are placed in-frame so that we may read them...which contradict everything being said by the characters. A continuity person on the crew should have caught this.

I hate to sound cynical, but Iíve reached the point where I expect very little from low-budget horror films, but Shadow Puppets is a worthy entry in this genre. The story is simple, but intriguing and I felt very compelled to stick with the movie and learn whatís happening with theses characters. The movie is far from perfect, but the problems, though tangible, donít take away from the central premise. Fans of films such as Cube, where thereís a who am I/where am I, will enjoy Shadow Puppets.

Shadow Puppets casts a light onto DVD courtesy of Starz Home Entertainment. The movie has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The movie shot on HD and the DVD transfer looks very good. The image is incredibly sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects such as scratches. The colors look very good, and although the story takes place in a dark location, the action is always visible. The image has a very nice depth which adds to the overall effect of the story. I noted no video noise or artifacting. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The movie relies heavily on the sounds in the film and this track does a nice job of reproducing them. The stereo effects are fine, but itís the surround sound and subwoofer effects which truly adds ambience to the proceedings.

The Shadow Puppets DVD contains only a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from writer/director Michael Winnick and cinematographer Jonathan Hale. This is one of the most scene-specific commentaries which Iíve ever heard, as the pair do a great job of talking about what we are seeing. They talk about the actors and the specifics of each scene. However, they donít say much about how the film came together, where it was shot, how it was cast, etc. ďDirector and Cast CommentsĒ (8 minutes) is exactly what it promises to be, as Winnick, James Marsters, Jolene Blalock, and Tony Todd talk about their involvement in the movie. The DVD also contains a TRAILER for the movie, which is 16 x 9. The DVD box promises a Behind-the-scenes making of featurette, but that is not to be found here.

Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long