It feels like you can’t move for murder mysteries. This has been the case for decades. Numerous films, TV shows and, more recently streaming programmes follow this story. The detective who is down on his and/or in a slump – extra points for drinking or smoking habit or drug addiction – preferably in a trench coat with thick stubble. In a world of this over saturation, it’s easy to understand that it’s hard to find a way to tell this story in a different way.
Examples of this done well are Columbo, where we see the murder and motivation in its full and then see how the case was solved. Dexter where a series killer is killing over serial killers, using the guise of a murder mystery. And The Silence of the Lambs, which used the relationship between a killer and a cop, and played around with tone and legitimate disturbing content and imagery that it felt more like a horror film than a mystery.
I bring this up because Chasing Shadows – for all its good intentions – does not break out and give a new voice to the murder mystery formula. Henry is a private investor, who is hired by the police to help them solve the extremely grizzly murder of a woman. However, the longer Henry spends on the case the more of a tole it takes on his marriage and mental health. Then more and more women are killed in equally brutal ways – there is officially a serial killer on the loose. All of this coincides with Henry’s new neighbour, the scar-faced Max, moving in…
As a plot it does the job. As a look at these characters, and the themes of what you see affecting you are well done. I have no issues with these points, as they did work for the film. But they did just that – do their job, nothing more. There are also points in the plot and character development that were more than a little familiar. It felt like Luther, with moments of Kill List, Zodiac and Dirty Harry – before it all goes full blown Se7en at the end. I know, there is that theory of there only being seven or so original stories and that everything is inspired by one thing or another. But the best of them manage to either bring something new to the table or manage to feel different. That is where Chasing Shadows falls short.
In terms of acting and film making, Chasing Shadows is a mixed bag. Some of the early visuals and the attack scenes are very well constructed and visually nice, despite what is clearly a restrictive budget. The opening alone felt like Panic Room’s opening, and I mean that in a good way. It was good, haunting stuff. But then we get very flat looking talking scenes (partly to do with budget restrictions and the filmmakers not really finding the best way around it) and some horrible editing. Sometimes the editing is smooth and blends the film, carefully knitting one scene to the next. Other times it’s a straight jump, sometimes leaving the feeling that the previous scene was unfinished as we jumped.
The acting has a strange paradox and perfectly demonstrates what how important the tone of a scene can be. The actors, all fine and doing well, do feel a bit like they are line reading throughout the film. Now, in the investigation scenes or when Henry is talking to the cops or the chief or even with Max, this weirdly works. It feels like funeral talk. Like when you mingle with people at the wake of a close one. For a film about death I found that fairly interesting. Other times though, it just felt like people reading the lines as they got them. The scenes between Henry and his wife, or Max and Henry’s wife, or the two cops together really suffered for this.
Chasing Shadows is at the end a watchable and fine little murder mystery. Focus is placed more on the killer than you’d be expecting, but his motivation isn’t as deep as the film seems to think it is. It has a good story and its tone is certainly in the right place. I think, unfortunately, the film lacks ambition. It feels like it’s constrained by its genre as opposed to embracing it. If you like this sort of film, or have a passing interesting in films like those of Shane Meadows or Ben Wheatley (though admittedly not as strong) then I think it’s worth a watch. It’s certainly not boring. I just feel like it needed a little more to help it stand out.
We hope you're enjoying BRWC. You should check us out on our social channels, subscribe to our newsletter, and tell your friends. BRWC is short for battleroyalewithcheese.