We’ve all heard the old legends of the “night mare”; that beast of myth that comes to us in the night, sucking the soul from us as it pins us helpless to our beds. There are countless variations on this theme, even picked up and built upon by horror legends like John Polidori and, more modern and predictably, Wes Craven. As with any legend, there’s a basis in scientific fact for these “night terrors”; a little-known and even less understood disease called Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome, or SUNDS. Those afflicted by this illness have been known to simply die in their sleep, even if they were perfectly healthy otherwise; of course, superstition attaches a sinister and dark force as a cause of this terrible affliction…
The latest film to explore this terrible mystery of the night, focusing on the supernatural aspects whilst acknowledging the scientific, is Matthew Arnold’s Shadow People.
Charlie Crowe is a struggling late-night radio talk show host; his shtick is discussing oddities or strange occurrences with people, but his usual retinue of callers are just your run-of-the-mill losers. One particular caller, “Jeff”, tells him that he sees things in the darkness, things that are coming to get him while he sleeps. Charlie, tongue firmly in cheek, tells the kid to get off the drugs. The next day, however, he receives a package at his doorstep from “Jeff”; a package containing strange photos, drawings, and transcripts of what seems to be some kind of bizarre medical experiment. When “Jeff” calls into his show next, Charlie is much more interested in talking to him, but the conversation takes a turn when the fearful young man seemingly shoots himself. This is found to be untrue; the boy had shot the wall of his room, but is nonetheless (thank God) hospitalized for observation. Charlie goes to visit him there the next day, but to his shock he finds that the troubled “Jeff” has died mysteriously in his sleep…just as he had said he would.
Reaching out to his callers, both for his own curiosity and for the ratings, Charlie begins to be flooded with tales of similar experiences from many people, believing themselves to be watched in the darkness, at times even attacked; some find themselves paralyzed and unable to move in their beds as they feel the weight of something upon them. It’s not long before several other people in town expire in their sleep, people that Charlie has had contact with; believing a rare disease may be responsible for the fatalities, the Center for Disease Control focuses its eyes on the town…but can science provide an answer for what we learn is an ancient fear? Is it a disease that’s killing these people, or something that perhaps Charlie has inadvertently made far more powerful?
The story, done in a “mockumentary” -style, using “actual footage” of the people portrayed in the film to add credibility to the story, calls The Fourth Kind to mind. The “shadow people” themselves and their seeming extradimensional existence reminded me a lot of Boogeyman and They; however, I’m not saying this one is a rip-off of those flicks (or any other). Although this movie explores similar concepts, its execution is its own; the belief in the kinds of beings or creatures these “shadow people” appear to be is old and widespread; to say this movie is a rip-off would be akin to saying any haunted house movie is just a rip-off of The Haunting. In particular, I liked the concept that the “shadow people” are drawn to you simply by your thinking of them; that by people talking about the phenomena and spreading the word, they gain power…
…indeed, since you watched the movie, dear audience, they are now aware of you (heh-heh).
OK, sure; it’s a little hokey…but I found it provocative in a fun kinda way. I do have to admit that this isn’t the first time I’ve heard of this idea, however; the Shadowstealer of Allen Lee Harris’ book Let There Be Dark gains it’s strength in a similar fashion, but circumstances are still different enough for Shadow People to stand on its own.
Overall, I found the flick to be atmospheric and creepy; granted, it tends to be pretty dark, but it’s not called Brightly-Lit People, now is it? I felt the ambient darkness lent itself to the theme of the movie, and contributed to the overall spooky vibe; seriously, the basic, primal fear of the dark comes from not being able to see what’s in it, and I thought the cinematography played upon this well. The acting ran the gamut from pretty weak to pretty good, the poorest performances coming in the “actual footage” segments; fortunately, these were brief, and didn’t cause me to be pushed out of the film. There are some genuinely scary moments, elements calling to mind the primordial dread we all have of the darkness, and it touches the right buttons with some of its sequences; still, it has it’s weak points as well. The story tends to get bogged down in its exposition at times, trying to feed us information to establish its “authenticity” and losing track of its goal to scare the hell out of us. There’s no gore at all; this one strictly relies on getting in your head and grabbing you by the short hairs for its fear factor, so the hounds will find nothing to chew.
Most of these gripes are small potatoes; personally, I have only one thing that sticks out to me as something that just sucked about the movie: a quickie scene shuffled into the credits that goes against the whole feel of the rest of the film. It seemed very much like a kind of cheap tack-on, and it did nothing for the story at all; my advice is to turn the flick off when the credits start rolling; that little addition took a lot of what steam there was out of the film for me.
Overall, it held my interest for its eighty-nine minute run time, and that’s more than I can say for a lot of recent “supernatural” flicks. It’s not a great film, but I didn’t find it a total waste of time, either. If you’re the type that can get into a subtle, creepy flick that depends on its atmosphere, I think you’ll probably enjoy this one; I can see where watching it alone in the dark would make someone’s skin crawl if they’re in the right mindset. On the other hand, if you’re the type that wants a little more bang for your horror buck, I’d say you might wanna give this one a pass.
I myself found it a pretty decent, creepish way to kill an hour-and-a-half…
… but of course, we all know that I’m strange.
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