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Wood stock
A UK region 2 DVD review of SHADOW by Gort
 

David is an ex-soldier with a passion for mountain biking. Proper mountain biking, the sort where you hurtle down hillsides and bounce along though woodland, not toodle round to Asda for a four-pack of Scrumpy Jack. He's recently finished a tour of duty in Iraq, and on a friend's recommendation has come to an isolated but spectacularly beautiful spot in the Italian mountains to unwind. And it just gets better. Stopping off at an isolated hilltop tavern, he makes friendly eye contact with fellow cyclist and nature enthusiast Angeline, whose good looks and vulnerability make her an unlikely candidate for a solo biking holiday in back of beyond. As if to nail the point home, in stumble two loutish young hunters, English yobbo Fred – the sort of London-accented git you only tend to find in non-British movies – and American redneck Buck, who try it on with Angeline and prompt the noble David to verbally intervene on her behalf. This, as you can imagine, does not make them happy.

Now let's see what we have here. Dave and Angeline are good natured, attractive and sensibly dressed. Fred and Buck are unpleasant, ugly and clothed in black leather. Dave and Angeline have respect for nature, Fred and Buck do not. Dave and Angeline ride mountain bikes and stop to coo at the wildlife, Fred and Buck drive a grey 4x4, have a savage dog named Kaiser and are here to shoot at just about anything on four legs. And less than six minutes in the nice people have managed to piss off the nasty ones. Now at the risk of sounding sarcastic, where, exactly, do you think the story might be heading? Hmm? I wouldn't be so sure.

David may be a decent biker but he's rubbish at camping, and in the process of trying to erect his tent that evening he loses it to the wind. Lucky for him, then, that the more resourceful Angeline is camped nearby and invites him to stay in her tent for the night, where the two can bond and get ready for the inevitable arrival of gun-wielding trouble. It appears the next morning when David and Angeline are marvelling at the beauty at the very wildlife that Fred and Buck have in their rifle sight. Angeline scares the animals away and the livid hunters give chase in their jeep, shooting at the cyclists and trying to run them off the road. They manage to wing David, but a bit of quick thinking on his part puts a rock through their windscreen and flips their car. Take that you disrespectful louts.

David and Angeline flee the scene, then in one of those moments that has you yelling at the screen, they stop to rest and snog for long enough for the yobbos to catch them up and put guns to their heads. This pursuit/escape cycle looks set to continue for the rest of the film, particularly when David passes up on the opportunity to rob the two temporarily winded hunters of their weapons, making me wonder just how good a soldier he actually was. But it's then that the rules unexpectedly change. The unleashed Kaiser is chasing the campers when something suddenly stops him in his tracks. A short while, later Angeline disappears and the hunters discover that they have become the hunted, but by who or what?

I have, perhaps, already revealed a little too much, but only in an effort to assure those who, like me, were convinced from the first scene that they knew how the story would subsequently play out. The problem is that this mid-film shift takes us out of one familiar horror sub-genre and into another, and while creepily handled and occasionally quite tense, a little too much of it still plays like a mix tape of previously tried and tested ideas. This extends to some very visible and audible influences, from Andrea Moscianese's distinctly Goblin-esque score to direct borrowings from a number of notable genre films, including an ending that does provide a catch-all solution to all previous logic holes, but directly recalls a film that I dare not name lest I spoil it for first-timers.

Directed by Federico Zampaglione, the front man for folk/electronic band Tiromancino, Shadow lacks any real cultural identity, eschewing a proud history of Italian horror in favour of a patchwork assembly of familiar components targeted squarely at the international market. The credits are in Italian, the dialogue is in English and the cast hail from all over – David and Buck are played by Americans Jake Muxworthy and Chris Coppola, Angeline by French actress Karina Testa and Fred by sour-faced English musician Ottaviano Blitch. The real casting coup is super-gaunt Swiss actor/dancer Nuot Arquint as the almost alien-looking Mortis (oh I'll bet the filmmakers were chuckling over that name), though there is sometimes the sense that sequences are being staged purely to make full use of his lanky torso and extraordinary fizzog.

Shadow is a decently made, intermittently involving but ultimately uninspired goodie box of often second-hand material. The woodland chase scenes are excitingly staged and there's some effective creeping around in the dark towards the end, but by then we're in territory that others have long ago taken to an extreme that Zampaglione never fully commits to. Genre novices should have few complaints, but for this somewhat cynical veteran the result plays a little like a compilation of modern indie horror hits played by a talented but unadventurous tribute band, one that that you can't help thinking you'd like more if they wrote their own songs.

sound and vision

A solid-looking 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that copes well with the film's love affair and darkness and gloom. Detail is very good and grain is only really visible on the single-colour wash of daylight skies. The colours are a little muted with, as has become almost de rigueur in modern horror, a leaning towards an earthy palette.

The 5.1 surround track is lively and atmospheric, filling the room with the sound of wind in trees or rain on tent canvas (oh, did that bring back some memories) and throwing enough strange noises around in the spookier woodland to sell the idea that Kaiser really would think twice about chasing his prey. Gunshots really kick and a late film explosion has serious impact. Nice one.

extra features

Behind Shadow (21:18)
One of those upbeat behind-the-scenes featurettes that plays like an extended EPK, with the director outlining his intentions for the film and how the project got started, while the actors reveal what a pro he is to work with (when you can hear them – the sound recording on some of their interviews is really weak). The cinematographer and editor chip in a few production clichés, like it being their job to realise the director's vision (no, really?) or that the audience should feel trapped and experience every moment with the characters. Pretty much what every genre movie aims for then. Some of the making-of footage is interesting, particularly a make-up effect involving an eye, and there's a brief sequence showing the film's world premiere at FrightFest.

Stills Gallery (1:31)
A set of production stills set to music. Nothing surprising here.

Trailer (1:25)
Enough here for the observant to work out where the film goes in its second half, so don't watch it before the film. Please.

summary

Don't get me wrong, if you can swallow the borrowings as homage, then Shadow should play rather well. It scores on atmosphere, and its second act narrative shift is an effective rug-pull, albeit one that shies away from the extremes we've come to expect from this particular sub-genre. The film certainly has its fans within the horror community, but I remain unconvinced that it represents the Italian horror revival that some have claimed, particularly given the status of Zampaglione's illustrious forebears. FrightFest's disc (yep, they're releasing their own titles now, a good move in my view) has a decent transfer but not much in the way of extras, but checking around I'd say the price is right.

Shadow

Italy 2009
74 mins
director
Federico Zampaglione
producer
Massimo Ferrero
screenplay
Federico Zampaglione
Domenico Zampaglione
Giacomo Gensini
cinematography
Marco Bassano
editor
Eric Strand
music
Andrea Moscianese
starring
Jake Muxworthy
Karina Testa
Nuot Arquint
Chris Coppola
Ottaviano Blitch
Matt Patresi

disc details
region 2
video
2.35:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby 5.1 surround
languages
English
subtitles
none
extras
Behind the scenes featurette
Stills gallery
Trailer
distributor
FrightFest Features
release date
23 March 2011
review posted
22 March 2011

See all of Gort's reviews