Many horror films, and for that matter other genres too, follow a simple structure, a tried and tested formula that produce industry acceptable if uninspiring results. In this age of remakes and franchises when studios and film makers seem to err on the side of caution rather than be braver with their convictions it is refreshing to come across a film that surprises you. Dead Shadows is one such film.
From writer Vincent Jule and director David Cholewa, helming his first feature, comes a film that will make you smile and cringe in equal measure, and never quite lets on where it is taking you. The film opens with a young boy Chris, who we are told is a bit of a wimp and afraid of the dark, witnessing his father murder his mother as Halley's Comet passes by. Fast forward 10 years and Chris, played by the instantly likeable Fabian Wolfrom, is an IT helpline operator working from his small apartment in Paris. Another comet is about to skim the Earth's atmosphere but Chris is seemingly unimpressed with these forthcoming events despite an apparent knowledge of the solar system. Even when sexy neighbour Claire invites him to an apocalypse party in the next block he is reluctant, but eventually agrees.
While at the party Chris blacks out, apparently through a lack of exposure to light although it is not made clear whether this is psychological and related still to his fear of the dark, or for some as yet unknown reason. When he comes around he witnesses a man with strange markings to his face brutally assault a woman sexually and Chris flees back to his apartment. Now, with assistance from gun toting ballet teacher John (John Fallon) he must fight to survive as an unknown infection afflicts the population turning them increasingly aggressive and causing strange and horrific mutations.
Let me first say that Dead Shadows is great fun. It will make you smile and cringe, occasionally at the same time, and credit must go to David Cholewa for striking the balance between creating something genuinely original and yet still paying homage to creature features of the 70's and 80's. At no point does the film slip into parody and it will keep you guessing right up until the very end. The direction is clean and crisp and never dwells too long on one scene keeping the pace of the action high. There is an atmosphere to Dead Shadows that is hard to put your finger on but throughout I had the feeling that something was about to happen, that there was something just around the corner, but even when there was a reveal or key plot moment it was always somehow unexpected.
The performances from the leads are excellent, especially Fabian Wolfrom who find the middle ground between appearing to be in awe of everything occurring around him and yet still possessing a dark secret that he strives to keep hidden. As far as the creatures go they are kept relatively simple and used as sporadically as possible, presumably to avoid the CGI taking over what is at heart a character piece. The mutations are well handled though and are never comic, and for me there was a slight hint of Resident Evil about them, and I refer to the games as opposed to the disappointing film franchise.
Do not get me wrong, Dead Shadows is a true horror film. There are tough moments here and the violence, when it comes, is hard and unflinching. Fortunately the director has not relied on blood splatters or overly graphic gore in his story as this would have deflected from the dark and slightly claustrophobic atmosphere he has created. Think more George A. Romero's Night Of The Living Dead than Zack Snyder's remade Dawn Of The Dead.
The reveal when it comes may disappoint some in that the film doesn't really answer any of the questions you may have. Few loose ends are tied up but I actually like this ambiguity. I don't think a film always needs to explain itself to its audience and if you leave the cinema with questions or discussing the plot points then this is a good thing, providing it is done well and here it definitely is.
I would recommend anyone to see Dead Shadows. It is a thoroughly enjoyable film that achieves exactly what it sets out to do. And if David Cholewa now goes on to great success, as I am sure he will, then this will be where it all began.