I had a surreal moment at the beginning of my viewing of Shadow People. When we’re first introduced to the Charlie character, he’s hosting his late night radio show and we only hear his voice. He’s talking to a caller, who is asking about a girl he likes on facebook but doesn’t know how to pursue a relationship with her, and all I could think was that the caller sounded a lot like the guy who plays David Morrissey’s clean-cut sidekick on AMC’s The Walking Dead. When Charlie’s face was finally revealed however, it turned out he was played by that actor I was associating with the caller, Dallas Roberts. Don’t know if that story would be worthy of Charlie’s radio show, where he answers questions about the mundane and supernatural alike, but I thought it was interesting.
Shadow People is an interesting film, and a very effective horror movie. There must be a dozen movies like this that come out a year and are “inspired by real events.” The difference between this and all the others is that those other horror movies are obviously heightened and blown out of proportion to make them as scary as possible. Shadow People makes a legitimate attempt to stick to the real life events, providing archival footage and interviews from the people involved as evidence for its verisimilitude. The idea is that there are creatures that exist beyond our field of vision, and for some reason they like to kill us in our sleep. You can only catch glimpses of them as they manifest in our plain of existence as shadows. There also seems to be a connection between these creatures’ ability to kill an individual and that individual’s knowledge about them. Not just knowledge; but the rule seems to be that you have to know they exist, believe in them, and fear them before they’ll come for you.
Research and planning for the film began as footage of a sleep study was uploaded to youtube and went viral. There’s also a documentary about the phenomenon of Shadow People and its connection to Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome (SUNDS). All of these elements folding in on each other do a lot to make the audience think about the possibility that these creatures exist make for a thematically fascinating film. Ideas of knowledge creating power, and the supernatural being things that science hasn’t explained yet play out well in the film and make for a legitimately scary viewing experience. The archival footage helps cement us in a real world environment as the horror movie elements play out.
To give just a brief overview of the story, Charlie is hosting his radio show one night when a terrified kid named Jeff (Jonathan Baron) calls in seeking guidance to protect himself from the Shadow People. Charlie dismisses it as insanity, but when Jeff calls back and tells him he has a gun to “stop himself from thinking” things get real for Charlie fast. Soon, Charlie finds himself in the midst of a series of mysterious deaths as he tries to separate fact from myth as well as his own beliefs.
The one thing that is really bizarre to me about the production of this film is that we see the real-world counterparts of most of our characters, and the strange thing is that none of them look anything like the actors in the film. Especially Charlie, who was an overweight bald man in real life. I don’t know what the filmmakers were hoping to accomplish by casting so vastly contrasting looking people for the movie, especially since they planned on using the archival footage, but it did pull me out of the film a bit to see everyone “hollywoodized.” The closest resemblance between an actor in the movie and the person they were portraying was probably the actor who played Charlie’s son Preston (Mattie Liptak). Beyond that, they were all quite different.
I like that even though Shadow People is a horror movie, it doesn’t go out of its way to scare people and it doesn’t use cheap tricks like shrieking music to startle its audience (mostly). It’s everything a horror movie is supposed to be. There’s a good, simple monster, it makes you think, it has a real-world significance, and the acting and production just make it a good film all around.
The only special feature is a behind the scenes featurette focusing on the mythology of the shadow people. Available now on DVD and Blu-ray from Anchor Bay Entertainment. I can’t recommend the Blu-ray over the DVD on this one; mostly due to all of the archival footage which won’t look good either way.