Alternative Titles: Rémképek
Director: Federico Zampaglione
Writer: Federico Zampaglione, Domenico Zampaglione, Giacomo Gensini
Starring: Jake Muxworthy, Karina Testa, Ottaviano Blitch, Chris Coppola, Nout Arquint
Returning from a devastating tour of duty in Iran, David decides to go on a mountain biking adventure in the Alps to put his horrific memories of war behind him but the nightmare has only just begun.
SHADOW opens up in almost DELIVERANCE territory as hero and war veteran David sticks up for fellow traveller Angeline in a remote bar as she is harassed by two aggressive hunters. This altercation sets up the proceedings well and without dwelling on the past (or even the present) but it does manage to drive the film forwards as it turns into a tense survival thriller (which is at odds with the films marketing) and it is not until an exposition conversation between David and Angeline later that the seeds of future misfortune are sown.
This occurs at around the halfway mark as the film shifts not only tone but also the sub-genre as it becomes more sinister and the roles of hunter and hunted become somewhat reversed.
Sequences skip ever so slightly, almost like a dream in a bid to drive the narrative forwards leaving the viewer sometimes unsure as to how they arrived there but thankfully due to the strong technical (and visual) competencies of the crew things never feel jilted or forced and before you know it SHADOW has reinvented itself as a potential torture porn film. Whether this was always the intention or simply an attempt at improving commercialisation (after all it was shot in English to appeal to an international market) we can only speculate but from Zampaglione’s aversion to showing us gore (one scene excluded) that is vital to these films I know which way I would argue. However that is not to say that SHADOW doesn’t make up for it in other ways, for what those films lack in subtly and atmosphere SHADOW has in abundance thanks to its nightmarish and atmospheric feel and subtle, sly, sometimes political, humour. Zampaglione has made something that has substance along with the style even if it is potentially at the risk of alienating some of the core audience….but potentially not the mainstream.
It is also around this point that we meet the true villain of the piece. Looking somewhat like the creature from Christopher Smith’s 2004 British film CREEP, here the toad-licking stoned mad scientist Mortis is granted a subtle emotional depth thanks to actor Nout Arquint who portrays the disturbed harbinger of death perfectly. In my opinion one of the films strongest scenes centres on Arquint and the aforementioned toad, where the strong acting performance combined with a building powerful musical accompaniment really works, raising viewer expectations that it is such a shame that the very next scene fails to deliver off it and this ultimately sums the film up.
There is a lot to praise SHADOW for, from the tremendous locations that take in dense, thick forests and misty, snow-capped mountains all the way to dark, decrepit lairs not to mention a fantastic soundtrack (unsurprising considering the directors background) and editing of such a high quality you are always engrossed into the film. The scant 74 minutes fly by thanks to some great scenes and the editing mixing it up with fast and frantic cuts along with slower, more drawn out and tense scenes which really allowing the viewer to be absorbed into the world Zampaglione has created without ever feeling bored or comfortable.
But not everything works as the main villain is woefully underused (and had much unrealised potential) while the varying accents of the international cast took a little bit of adjustment but thankfully aren’t a major issue as they all put in strong performances. However the key gripe many viewers will have is the ending. Almost certain to make the majority shout at their TV screen it is a shame but it could not be changed as Zampaglione weaves in many ever-so-subtle and intricate clues throughout the film leading to one final result.
Overall SHADOW is a strong calling card for a very promising director but it never quite consistently hits the right notes as it just falls short of all of the genres it takes it influence from and one would be better off checking out French films such as FRONTIER(S) or THE ORDEAL as well as North American films such as LIVE FEED and HOSTEL first instead.
On a side note director Federico Zampaglione is also the frontman for unconventional Italian pop/rock band Tiromancino who have put out over ten albums since 1992 and helps explain the fantastic use of music in this film.
I watched the UK Frightfest Features release which presents the film in 16:9 format. The disc comes with a few extras including the obligatory trailer, a stills gallery and a 22-minute behind the scenes featurette. This extra is surprisingly engaging and allows not only for some interesting shots of the production but we also get to understand why a pop-rock star has turned genre director. Federico Zampaglione’s love for the alternative cinema of his nation is infectious as he speaks of his love for Dario Argento, Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci – a love that no doubt culminated with his film TULPA. Worth twenty odd minutes of anyone’s time I actually felt a bit more love for the film because of it as my initial anger at the ending subsided thanks to seeing the work and decision making that went into the film justifying minor yet key decisions on the whole.