This week Anchor Bay released writer/director Matthew Arnold’s indie thriller Shadow People, and to mark the occasion, Dread Central caught up with the filmmaker to talk about the project, the real-life inspiration behind the story, and lots more.
The film stars Dallas Roberts (“The Walking Dead”) as a small town radio personality named Charlie Crowe, who unravels a conspiracy about encounters with the mysterious shadowy figures that happen to be the cause of hundreds of unexplained deaths over hundreds of years in many different cultures throughout the world. Through his own investigations, Charlie (Roberts) encounters CDC Epidemic Intelligence Agent Sophie Lancombe (Alison Eastwood), whose discoveries end up leading them both into a dark world and a decades old cover-up.
Read on for our exclusive Indie Horror Month interview with Arnold for Shadow People (review), and make sure to check out the film now that it’s available everywhere!
Dread Central: Great job on a creepy this creepy little movie; what inspired the story? Was this something you had personal experience with before writing the film?
Matthew Arnold: I did! In fact, this story came to me from my own personal experience; I woke up one night and my body was completely paralyzed. I felt like my body was asleep but I was definitely awake and I saw a shadowy figure standing over me; I finally was able to yell and willed myself to get up, and then the figure shot through the wall and disappeared. I had no idea what was going on but it was terrifying.
So then I began to research this phenomenon, and the more I researched it, the more common I found it to be; almost every culture has a name for this and our roots have explanations for this. If you look at the etymology of the word nightmare, it actually refers to a spirit that holds you down. Now it means something completely different, but what if that’s what a nightmare actually meant at one time? It makes a lot of sense in some ways.
I also learned about an epidemic that happened in the late 1970’s where the CDC was sent in and it was officially referred to as “sudden unexplained nocturnal death syndrome,” which is also something that has happened in other countries around the world too. What I found truly amazing about all of this was how these stories could have existed for so long but no one ever really talked about them or made movies about them. There was a lot that I found that maybe wasn’t real and some that I found that was real; my job ultimately was to find a way to ground the fantastical and make it all seem realistic within the context of our story.
Dread Central: I thought it was interesting the way that you blended real-life footage from Charlie’s life and from people who have been affected by the “shadow people” throughout the years together with a traditional narrative story; was it conscious on your part to want to try to do something a little bit different then with your approach?
Matthew Arnold: When I first started working on this project, I was writing fictional scenes because I was thinking at that point that we would be making this a found footage movie kind of like Paranormal Activity. But then I realized if we went that route, it would undermine the truth of the story so that’s when I made the decision to include elements from the real story.
Since I didn’t have video documentation of everything that happened with Charlie, we dramatized those segments. Sometimes a documentary can be very scientific where you can lose the emotion of the real story and I didn’t want to do that here so I give the audience both options and let them decide for themselves. I think it’s scarier when you can base something in reality- think about Jaws. Why is Jaws one of the scariest movies of all time? Sure, it’s terrifying to watch, but what really scares us is that we all like to go swimming so a shark attack is a real threat. That’s the kind of real-life fear I was trying to evoke in Shadow People.
Dread Central: What was it about Dallas that made him perfect for the role of Charlie?
Matthew Arnold: I had seen Dallas in the movie Shrink, which was just fantastic; for me, I knew that in order for Shadow People to ultimately work, the audience had to want to get behind Charlie, and Dallas just had that lovable quality to him. Because Charlie had this somewhat dubious reputation and a troubled personal life, I needed someone who could be honest and approachable to balance out those sides of him. Dallas was just amazing and I was very fortunate to have someone with his talents on board this project.
Dread Central: Do you see the potential for more stories in the Shadow People universe? It seems like there’s a lot of different material you could pull from for a sequel.
Matthew Arnold: Oh definitely- it’s something I’ve thought about too. It was so hard when writing this story to distill everything down to just one solitary story so I definitely think there are so many possibilities out there still. You could take this story pretty much anywhere in the world even- it would be really interesting to see the shadow people presented within the context of a completely different culture, for sure.
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