Shadows of the Dead (2004)
Starring Jonathan Flanigan, Beverly Hynds, Mark Harari
Directed by Carl Lindbergh
Shadows of the Dead is a title that beyond question demands a connection to George Romero's Dead trilogy (or is that quadrilogy, now?). But forget it, you walking pile of pus, because what this is is yet another undead indie effort shot on the cheap with "of the Dead" used as a gimmicky title. Now, before you go scampering off to cling to your Anchor Bay Dawn and Day discs know that Shadows is no Children of the Dead. Nor is it anything like the Dead trilogy for that matter. If I had to bestow it a moniker myself I'd probably call it Bed Time With the Dead. Not just because it has a sleepy kind of mood about, but a surprising percentage of the film takes place in and around an actual bed. That doesn't make things any less interesting about Shadow's concept, then again, it doesn't help matters all too much either because about halfway through the film you want to give someone a swift kick in the ass to get this somber exercise in simplicity moving.
A fairly realistic relationship is established within Shadow's opening minutes as we're introduced to John and Jennifer, a pair of lovebirds on their way to a wooded cabin. They've got their flaws, to be sure. We're reminded, however, through their banter that this is no relationship that's going to collapse under the silliest of arguments. Good for them. This is all put to the test when they get lost in the woods, with a flat tire to boot, and John is bitten by a pretty crafty zombie whose knack is to "play dead" (har har), sneak up on ya and then take a bite out of your unsuspecting ass. As we all know, a zombie's tender love nibble is eventually fatal if fluids are involved, right? Common knowledge. John learns the hard way the very next day when he awakens to discover he has no pulse thus putting him on that path to accepting that he, too, is one of the walking dead. Jennifer stands by her man through his feverish nights and begins to cope with the situation until one day John's urge for flesh comes to light. He samples a piece of his woman and ultimately converts her as well. So, now we've got two ailing, pale sickos gradually decaying in a cabin (curiously, their hands seem to be spared of the decomposition process) and trying to come to grips with their cravings and waning love for each other.
Under the restraints of a low budget writer/director Carl Lindbergh gains respect for at least bringing something somewhat unique and experimental to the zombie sub-genre. Rather than explore the process of altering into something less-than-fresh, he uses it to poke and stir up what is relatively a healthy bond between lovers. It's a David Mamet approach to relationships by way of George Romero, only the subtext is not nearly as layered. Locations are kept to a minimum and Lindbergh keeps his supporting cast limited to nothing more than walk on parts - the result of a scarce budget, so, Lindbergh falls back on stretches of drama involving nothing but our principal characters. For card carrying members of the attention deficit disorder club this will probably send some into epileptic seizure. Others might get a kick out of the metaphorical approaches to drug addiction and sexually transmitted disease (John heedlessly passing off his curse to Jennifer is blatant example); this reviewer was down with it all but was looking for a little more fright value and flair to the execution. Lindbergh robs us of any tension by shooting scenes way too dark or simply skirting around some of the big revelations by ending a scene abruptly then making reference to the "unseen" later on. The actual zombie "attack" John suffers is kept off camera and said walking corpse (of the oatmeal-ish variety) is never really given his due on screen. He's mostly a shadowy lump or roaming POV shot.
Actors Jonthan Flanigan (buried beneath white makeup and bandages) and Beverly Hynds pull off a likable chemistry; it's unfortunate that they're hindered by some forehead-smacking dialogue at times. You can say it borders on film school pretentiousness to drive the film's themes home, which is a shame because, at times, the dynamic between the couple feels pretty damn realistic. Then as their lives take a downward slide there's just too much showboating for me to be involved. This gradual descent as the film wears on, along with some logistical issues and an ending that runs for far too long and shamelessly rips on Luc Besson's The Professional (yeah, you read that right) further confirms that Shadows was a fine opportunity for a budding filmmaker to test the genre waters, but the idea was probably best suited for the short film format.
2 out of 5
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