Shadow Island Investigates Deadly Secrets on a Secluded Island

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I’m a sucker for folk horror. In particular, I love The Wicker Man-esque stories about people who travel to remote locations and encounter mysterious and hostile locals, so when I first heard about Shadow Island, I was instantly intrigued. The plot synopsis sounded like it would be right up my alley, and the trailer made me even more eager to check this film out. I was confident that it would be an awesome new entry in the folk horror canon, so I requested a screener right away, and I sat down to watch it as soon as I could.

Shadow Island was written and directed by Johan Storm, and it stars Johan L. Heinstedt, Hanne Mathisen Haga, Joel Wallón, and Magnus Roosmann. It’s about a meteorologist named David who lost his father when he was a young child, so he never got to spend much time with the man. One day, while David is visiting his mother, he finds what’s left of his father’s work, and he decides to investigate. See, when the guy died, he was working on a remote island, but he never told his family what he was doing there. It’s always been a mystery, and David wants some answers.

He travels to the island under the pretense of studying the weather, and when he arrives, the place seems deserted. However, he soon learns that there’s someone else there with him. A young woman named Sarah is working in a nearby lighthouse, and as the only two inhabitants of this island, they quickly become friends. On top of that, David also finds that someone has been tampering with his meteorological equipment, and he discovers a secret cave whose inner caverns are locked away behind a mysterious door. He’s not sure what’s going on, but when the truth finally comes to light, he gets a bit more than he bargained for.

A man looking serious
Image provided by Brainstorm Media

I have to warn you, Shadow Island is a pretty slow burn, so don’t go into it expecting chills and thrills every few minutes. After a fairly brief introduction to David, the first hour or so of this movie is pretty much just Sarah and him doing their work on the island, and there aren’t any real scares.

These first two acts rely primarily on the strength of the film’s two main characters, and thankfully, David and Sarah are totally up to the task. Johan L. Heinstedt and Hanne Mathisen Haga do an excellent job playing them, so they more than make up for the lack of action and scares. They manage to make their characters feel completely real, so I had no trouble at all immersing myself in their story.

That being said, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I said the first hour of Shadow Island doesn’t have any scares, but that doesn’t mean it’s entirely devoid of horror. This section of the movie has some hauntingly beautiful cinematography and a really creepy score, and when those two elements come together, they make for a great horror atmosphere.

On top of that, as I said before, we also get a few hints here and there that something isn’t quite right with this island, and those moments are excellent as well. Granted, they’re relatively few and far between, but there are just enough of them that I remained super intrigued the entire time, even when the mystery seemed to fade into the background a bit.

Then, when Shadow Island finally begins to let us in on its secrets, the film gets even better. The first big reveal comes at about the one-hour mark, and it’s not at all what I was expecting. I was genuinely shocked when I started to find out what was really going on here, so I couldn’t wait to learn more about this mysterious place.

A woman's face
Image provided by Brainstorm Media

But after that, the movie turns into a bit of a roller coaster, and not in a good way. Despite the outstanding initial reveal, the truth about this island isn’t nearly as exciting as I thought it would be. To be frank, it actually ends up being pretty underwhelming, so I was really let down by the rest of the third act.

There is, however, one exception. Right before Shadow Island ends, the movie redeems itself a tiny bit by giving us one more excellent scene. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but suffice it to say, this scene adds another surprising layer to the mystery behind the island, and I, for one, think it’s pretty effective.

Unfortunately, though, that’s just one moment, so it’s not enough to outweigh everything this film does poorly. On the whole, Shadow Island is a classic case of the setup being way better than the payoff, so even though I really enjoyed the first hour or so, I ended up walking away pretty disappointed.

Sure, I liked this movie for most of its runtime, but as all film fans know, the end is the most important part. It colors everything that came before it, so if the final few scenes leave off on a sour note, they can ruin the entire movie. And if a film is a mystery, that’s doubly true. Underwhelming answers can make the buildup feel pointless, and that’s exactly what happens with Shadow Island. The third act ruined what was up until then a very pleasant experience for me, so if you’re looking for some good new horror to watch, I’m sad to say I wouldn’t recommend this movie.

Shadow Island will be available on demand and in select theaters on September 8.

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Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong horror fan. From a very early age, he learned to love monsters, ghosts, and all things spooky, and it's still his favorite genre today.

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