One of my favorite things about the horror genre is how diverse it is. When most people think about horror, they envision something like Halloween or Paranormal Activity, but we hardcore fans know that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Don’t get me wrong, I love both of those movies, but there’s a whole lot more to the genre than just slashers and haunted houses. Monsters come in all shapes and sizes, and few films in recent memory epitomize that as well as Shadows.
Shadows was directed by Carlo Lavagna, and it stars Mia Threapleton, Lola Petticrew, and Saskia Reeves. It’s about teenage sisters Alma and Alex who live with their mother in an abandoned hotel after an unspecified apocalyptic event. We never learn exactly what that event was, but we do know a bit about its aftermath.
The family can only leave the hotel at night, and if they go outside in the daylight, they’ll be attacked by mysterious and deadly creatures called the Shadows. Because of that danger, the girls’ mother is very strict with them, but after a while, Alma and Alex begin to question her overprotective ways. That rebellion eventually leads them to the truth about the Shadows and the outside world, and it’s much more sinister than they ever imagined.
Shadows is a pretty slow burn, so don’t expect chills and thrills every few minutes. In fact, pretty much the entire first half is just the family going about their normal lives, so there’s not a ton of horror in this part of the story. But don’t worry, everything else about it is so good that the relative lack of horror isn’t a problem.
In fact, this movie had me hooked right from the opening scene. This whole situation just feels completely believable, so I totally bought into these characters and their plight. For starters, the set designs in this film are spot-on. While I don’t have any real-life experience with post-apocalyptic landscapes, the setting here looks pretty authentic to me. If I didn’t know any better, I would’ve thought this movie was shot in the aftermath of a real apocalyptic event!
But hands down, the absolute best thing about the first half of Shadows is the characters. All three of the leads are fantastic, and they completely nail every tone and emotion they’re asked to convey. I never felt like I was watching actors reading lines, so I had no trouble at all suspending disbelief and immersing myself in their story. That believability made me really love these characters, so no matter what was happening on screen, I always enjoyed seeing them do their thing.
Then, at around the halfway point or so, the movie begins to hint at the truth behind the Shadows, and I have to admit, I wasn’t happy about it. It seemed like the film was going to go down the one route I was hoping it would avoid, so I began to mentally prepare myself for disappointment.
But somehow, that disappointment never came. I ended up being right about the explanation of the Shadows, but the second half of the movie is executed so well that it completely avoids all the pitfalls I was afraid it would succumb to. See, while this isn’t a straightforward “monsters in the woods” story a la A Quiet Place, it’s also not just a cool story with an M. Night Shyamalan-esque twist ending that comes out of nowhere.
Shadows occupies a middle ground between those two extremes, and it’s all the better for that. Unlike a lot of similar movies, this one doesn’t use the truth about its monsters as a cheap “gotcha” tactic. Rather, once it gives you enough hints that you can figure it out, the film leans into that horrific truth in a very different way than you might expect.
I obviously can’t tell you how exactly it does that, but I can say that the horror in this part of the story hits much closer to home than I thought it would. It’s a bit subtle, so there aren’t any in-your-face scares or gross-out gore moments, but the whole scenario just becomes really insidious. In a certain sense, it’s much more down to earth than I was expecting, and for my money, that also makes it much more effective.
All that being said, there was one thing about the second half of Shadows that I wasn’t a big fan of. After the horror plays out, the movie takes one more unexpected turn at the very end, and to me, that turn felt pretty unnecessary. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad surprise, and it makes perfect sense in context, but I don’t think it adds anything to the film. The story would’ve been exactly the same without that extra twist, so it just doesn’t have the shock value it was probably intended to have.
But in the grand scheme of things, that’s a very minor complaint. As I said, it’s not a bad little surprise, so it doesn’t make the film any better or worse. On the whole, Shadows is still an excellent post-apocalyptic psychological thriller, and I had a really good time watching it. The movie has great characters, a totally believable setting, and a whole bunch of subtly insidious horror in the second half, so I definitely recommend that you check it out.
Shadows hits VOD platforms on November 15.