Directed by Daniel Armstrong
Distributed by The Scream Factory
Potential is a useless quality if it is never realized. It’s a term used to signify the possibility of greatness that could come out of people, events, films, etc. And it means exactly jack squat if it never materializes. Everything has potential to some degree, and history will only remember those that fully exploit it with some measure of success. Dead Shadows (2012) is a film that had potential. The inaugural film from former international film seller turned filmmaker David Cholewa displays a heavy influence from cult classics such as John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), Night of the Comet (1984) and all things Lovecraftian. The trailer and poster suggest an apocalyptic setting replete with alien nemeses who are about to meet the business end of a baseball bat wielded by our protagonist. Add in the fact that Scream Factory chose to give it a proper Stateside release, and it can be easy to assume you’re about to watch some gem in the rough of the DTV market. The fact that it’s a French film might intrigue some viewers, too, since that country has been responsible for a handful of contemporary cult classics in recent years. The reality, however, is an anemic, hurried (it runs a scant 76 minutes with credits) production that gets off to a promising start and quickly unravels into a concoction of callow writing, poor CGI FX, and a climax that can hardly be considered one due to a complete and total lack of tension or emotion.
Halley’s Comet enters Earth’s atmosphere late one night, leaving a trail of space dust & debris in its wake, and on the same night Chris’ (Fabian Wolfrom, who looks like a young Alain Delon) parents are murdered. Cut to ten years later and Chris is a computer tech, working out of his apartment (which is replete with awesome collectibles) and generally being a shy, awkward weird dude who also has a serious fear of the dark. A report on the news says there’s a new comet headed our way and everyone in Chris’ building is getting together to celebrate with a big party. Despite his antisocial disposition, Chris decides to join the festivities when Claire (Blandine Marmigere) invites him along to have some fun. Once he arrives, and the comet passes overhead, he notices the partygoers are beginning to act erratically, with a propensity toward violence. His suspicions are confirmed when he sees Claire lured into a bedroom by an ugly guy with a serious skin problem on his face. As he peers through the door, the ugly guy unzips and literally skewers Claire with an alien penis. Freaking out, Chris retreats from the party and absconds to his apartment. There, he meets up with John (John Fallon), the local tough guy who’s packing some serious firepower. Together, they’ve got the escape the building, kill anyone in sight, and… just survive, I guess. There’s really no goal here.
For a good four or five minutes Dead Shadows had me hooked into thinking this could be something fun, maybe even good. Threats from outer space are always a big hit, and the film sets up something that, while totally derivative of better films, looked like it was heading in a promising direction. Comet passes by Earth, people go crazy, mutated creatures attack… sounds like a winning formula if I’ve heard one. After the confusing opening – Chris’ parents are supposedly murdered, yet the opening only shows his father killing his mother – we’re left to shamble around with Chris for what feels like an eternity before anything of substance occurs. For a movie that has less than 76 minutes of actual screen time, it sure wastes a lot of it meandering about and trying to set up relationships with people that ultimately ring hollow. I’m going to give the writing some level of credit in assuming the intention was to present the comet’s effect on Paris with a lack of exposition. In a crisis like this, it’s doubtful most people would know just what the hell is going on, so we, the viewer, as left just as clueless. Now, I kinda feel like most of the clunky plotting and logic gaps are due to poor writing and nothing else, but they wouldn’t be as big of an issue if the movie itself was any good.
The worst offender here is the FX work. I get it; the filmmakers had next to no budget and did the best they could with what they had. Is that an excuse to compromise an artistic vision, though? It seems doubtful Cholewa would want to make a film full of CGI creations that look like they were rendered in 1994. There is exactly one good FX moment – a practical gag where someone’s face melts off. Had the rest of the film featured that kind of artistry, and not no-budget computer work, then maybe there’d be something here; some good meat on weak bones. But it all just looks so bad. So bad. Maybe some people can overlook weak effects and let it slide because they get the gist of what the filmmaking team was going for; I can’t be as forgiving.
Dead Shadows lumbers to a finish that is about as anti-climactic as they come. It almost makes a person dislike the film even more knowing it could’ve gone somewhere interesting and it never even got close. There’s just so much bad writing. Chris saves a guy on the streets from being attacked, yet once he kills the perpetrators he never once checks on the guy dying in the street. Despite being a recluse (a recluse who looks like a male model, btw), Chris is shown to be a competent, perhaps skilled, fighter with both his hands and a bat. When Chris returns to the party after the guests have slaughtered each other, Claire (who is somehow still alive) stabs him, only to immediately regret it as she tries to help him escape to the roof. To highlight every bad bit of scripting would be to practically post the entire script. Needless to continue saying, Dead Shadows should remain both of those things – dead, and in the shadows.
Dead Shadows comes home on Blu-ray with a 2.00:1 1080p image that has many strengths and a few weaknesses. On the positive side, the digital photography allows for maximum detail and perfect color reproduction when lighting is at its best. The opening scene features dark, inky blacks to illustrate the far reaches of space before kicking into an opening credit sequence full of glorious HD space porn. The grain-free transfer looks sharp and vibrant. Colors have a nice pop to them, and skin tones appear natural and warm. Once the action moves to night time, that’s when the picture gets dicey as contrast suffers and the picture tends to get lost in the darkness. The worst sin the film commits, however, is using CGI that simply does not fit into the picture. It’s poorly done and looks no better – and possibly worse – than anything you’ve seen on the SyFy Channel. Bad practical FX are much easier to overlook than bad computer work, and the creatures shown here all look like rough concepts that still need a lot of work. You can see what the filmmakers were going for, but the end result is totally incongruous.
The default track here is a French DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound option that is the clear way to go. Foreign films should always be watched in their native tongues. If, however, you absolutely insist on dubbing then there’s another lossless option in the form of an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track. Each choice will provide you with clear dialogue and a nice assortment of sound effects to provide immersion. The score by composer Kevin Riepl is a mixture of contemporary source music, piano underscoring, and some wicked synth – that last one may have something to do with the film’s sound designer: Alan Howarth. His cues are unmistakable. Gunfire pops up every so often, erupting with less weight than it deserves. The LFE track doesn’t do enough to sell impacts here. The disc also includes French and English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo tracks. Subtitles are available in English.
There’s a good amount of bonus material provided for Dead Shadows, though most of it runs rather short. Interview with director David Cholewa is a lengthy 33-minute conversation that has the first time director discussing his beginnings in the industry, how this film was financed, the shot length, concepts, and more. It is shown in French with English subtitles. Making of Special Effects shows off the shots done on set and how the FX crew layered up the elements to give us the final shots seen in the film. A brief reel of deleted scenes contains some quick bits that were cut or altered. Unfinished VFX Scene shows off a human-worm-demon thing that was to appear near the climax. The film’s trailer and teaser trailer round out the extras.
1 1/2 out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5