By Marti Dols Roca.
Shadows of a Stranger (2014) it’s a low budget debut feature film co directed by Richard Dutton and Chris Clark. This supernatural thriller makes us travel to the city of Meridian where detective Sherborne (Ian Mude) is going through a rough patch: cheated by his wife, scorned by his daughter, with a huge debt on his shoulders and haunted by the return of the village Christmas serial killer to top it off. When eccentric and filthy rich William Fallon (Colin Baker aka Dr Who n. 6) offers a million pounds reward to find his disappeared son, Sherborne sees his golden opportunity. He will team up with Xander (Chris Clark), a solitary young man with psychic abilities, to find Fallon’s son; a journey between dimensions that seemed to converge but are actually parallel and cases that looked parallel but eventually will become the same is about to begin…
Now, as it couldn’t be any other way, first thing to address is the visuals: in order to shot the movie, the filmmakers created their own blue screen and placed it in a barn somewhere in Lincolnshire. Therefore, all the scenarios where the scenes take place are digitally created. Let’s remind the reader this is a low budget debut feature film and such eventualities are understandable. It is what it is. It could also be said that at least is consistent as the whole movie is shot like that; there are no shot-on-location scenes whatsoever. Thing is it doesn’t look good. It could if it was an aesthetic choice (Scanner Darkly, Sin City…) but it doesn’t seem the case. Yes, this is a low budget film but it is fair to judge it from the audience point of view and personally (and disagreeing with other reviews I’ve read) it kept bothering me as I watched it. On the other hand it does bring some nostalgia from videogames times gone by and every now and then that is actually somehow satisfactory.
Another issue is the soundtrack. Again, fair enough, well tried, it’s almost like… but it’s not. In this case it is directly the filmmakers’ choice and I think it’s a wrong one. It is a bit intrusive, melodramatic, it doesn’t help the narration and it can get quite clichéd: to the point that the old and loaded man who never leaves his house haunted by his son’s disappearance listens to Pachelbel’s canon… That’s what I mean when I say this one was the filmmakers’ choice: it has nothing to do with budget; and there’s nothing plainer than Pachelbel’s canon.
In regard to acting, it is all right. The cast is quite impressive considering the low budget nature of the film and it is fair to say there are good performances; there are bad performances too… And again, the digital environment doesn’t help when you see an actor clearly trying to use his body to make up for the lack of surroundings. It surely works in the theatre, meters away from the stage; but not with medium shot car sequences…
Finally, story: the most important part. The part that can make all the previous points look like minor details… I mean… It’s alright. It’s not bad. It is a thriller with supernatural elements that follows the classical structure of the genre, it has a twist and there’s a certain amount of mystery and suspense. In my opinion it lacks a bit of action or the characters being under actual threat more often but I understand that also means money and it’s already been established that’s what the movie lacks the most. I’m not particularly thrilled by the story or the script to be honest- and it has nothing to do with lack of budget. In BRWC we have reviewed many independent low budget films and if there’s something they have is the ability to use their weaknesses as strengths or at least rely more on subtlety or just a very strong story (even a different approach to filmmaking which by itself it’s a reason to watch a movie; it being better or worse…). To be fair, probably this is the lowest budget one of them all and therefore the challenge is even bigger. Having said that, a great story normally makes up for everything else and, unfortunately, it is not the case.
However, after judging this film as I would judge any other, as a show of respect and honesty, the movie shows ambition, a great understanding of some filmmaking techniques (framing for instance), and a good first step for its authors. Patronizingly enough (me being probably younger and less experienced than them but happening to write for a cinema blog) I think the movie shows that huge things can be achieved by persevering and never giving in and that’s not a small thing. The directors, cast and crew have managed to successfully produce a feature film that has all the ingredients its genre demands. It looks more like a good exercise before the actual thing, but it is not easy and it has to be appreciated as such. Having said that, nice try and best of luck for the next one.
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