Like Jack the Reaper, this is a horror movie with a potentially interesting premise but instead settles for mediocrity; at least Shadow People isn’t nearly as bad as Jack the Reaper but it is also a dull ride. The main problem is with Matthew Arnold’s screenplay (he also directed.) When reading a synopsis for the movie one would expect something more intriguing, but Arnold unfortunately doesn’t do anything with the ideas present in the film and instead presents a mostly-standard, competently-made horror/thriller.
The movie is about Charlie Crowe (Dallas Roberts,) a radio talk show host discussing topics relating to the paranormal. In contrast to the callers he receives on his show Crowe is a skeptic. But he soon gets involved investigating the suspicious death of one of his callers whose paranoia about shadowy creatures that kill during the night might be justified. From here the movie gets predictable for we know that Crowe is destined to become a believer and soon be obsessed by what he discovers about the “Shadow People” as he probes deeper into the conspiracy. There are also other familiar tropes such as the fact that Crowe is divorced and has a hard time connecting with his son. Such bland characterization may have worked if it were presented more interestingly to the viewer, same with the entire plot, it also doesn’t help that Roberts simply isn’t a good actor. It’s good that he doesn’t feel the need to over-emote, but at the same time he doesn’t seem to be his character but rather vacantly occupy his role. While this approach may have been desired for the character is supposed to be detached but it doesn’t really work.
Perhaps the most unique element about the film is that the bulk of the action is seemingly recreated, as in the film implies that the events have actually happened and that the movie mostly consists of reenactments as if this is an extended episode of a show on Discovery or the History Channel. We get “real-life” footage of Charlie Crowe (who looks nothing like the actor in the reenactment) as well as talking-heads and interviews with witnesses. Of course these sections are fictional as well but are purposely presented as real in order to ground the events of the film in real-life, thus making the phenomena of “shadow people” in the realm of possibility. This is an interesting gimmick and it reminds me of movies like Paranormal Activity or various horror movies that introduce themselves with a “Based on a True Story” disclaimer. These sections are also done well and the acting is actually pretty decent and believable. Unfortunately, they are spliced within the film haphazardly, either letting long stretches of time go without a real-life witness confirming the events, or stuffing a bunch of footage and information into one area with little reason.
The other technical aspects such as the camerawork aren’t bad, but aren’t good either and don’t exactly illicit much in the scare department unless you’re easily frightened by shadows. The titular baddies themselves are CGI creations and I doubt they would inspire much more than a yawn from the viewer. Perhaps the most successful and effective tool used is the lighting which manages to create a creepy atmosphere to the film.
Overall, this movie isn’t nearly as bad as Jack the Reaper but it is nowhere near good as well. Story-wise it doesn’t deviate too far from the template thus making it too uninteresting and predictable to make it effective in creating a good scare, but if the movie had better cinematography then the movie could have been saved, if only somewhat. The acting, aside from Roberts is all around decent, but nothing great. This is just a below-average horror flick that could have been something greater if Arnold would have done something more with his interesting concept. Meh.