Dead Shadows Blu-ray Review
Directed by David Cholewa
Written by Vincent Julè
2012, Region A, 75 minutes, Not rated
Blu-ray released on April 29th, 2014
Fabian Wolfrom as Chris
Blandine Marmigère as Claire
John Fallon as John
Johanna Seror as Laure
A comet is approaching Paris, France, and the residents are looking to party. There is a small vocal minority concerned with potential danger, but the general populace is celebratory in anticipation. Chris, an introverted IT guy who works from home, is not really excited about the astronomical event and has plans that consist only of staying inside and minding his own business. His attractive neighbor Claire encourages him to join her at a neighborhood block party and he reluctantly agrees. When Chris ventures out to a local convenience store, he crosses paths with various people who are behaving strangely. Some are convinced the end of the world is upon us while others are simply acting erratically. Inside the store, a clingy woman confronts Chris, daring him to find her attractive while a homeless guy warns the clerk of invading space aliens.
Things take a dark turn at the party when Chris blacks out in the bathroom and wakes to find the world has become a living nightmare filled with monsters, mutations and gangs of street fighting zombies. He is taken under the protective wing of John, a tough bald guy who insists they leave the relative safety of their apartment building to face the unknown bedlam that is tearing the city apart. Chris is determined that they first stop to find (and save) Claire, but he is not fully prepared for the challenges they will face as Paris collapses around them.
Dead Shadows is a fast-paced film that contains many familiar elements from other genre flicks, most noticeably Night of the Comet. Also on hand are bits of Slither, The Faculty and Resident Evil, but there is enough original content to stand on its own without simply inspiring me to watch one of those other movies instead. Thematically it reminds me of John Carpenter's apocalyptic period (Prince of Darkness, In the Mouth of Madness), but that may be due in part to Kevin Riepl's score, or it could just be seeing the awesome French poster for Escape From New York hanging on the wall of the main character's room.
First-time director David Cholewa sets up some decent set pieces and delivers a bit of suspense with the assistance of cinematographer Thomas Rames. Together they create an environment rich with atmosphere and unsettling imagery, most notably at the party and the sequence featuring a bizarre arachnid in an alley. While not everything clicks, they keep things visually interesting and moving at a decent speed. Editors César Ducasse and Mathieu Peteul help maintain a sense of urgency to the onscreen antics while effects artist David Scherer delivers some respectable-looking mutations (enhanced with CGI).
Working against their efforts is the weak script by Vincent Julè, mired not so much in cliché but rather undercooked ideas and muddled motivations. The first half hour is a series of setups, many without payoff, including a pre-credit sequence tragedy that is never revisited. His characters behave irrationally when confronted with danger, and while in reality that may sometimes be accurate, here it only happens because the screenplay demands it (i.e. why would John the sensible tough guy insist on venturing out into the dark streets instead of waiting for the police or at least daylight?)
Fabian Wolfrom does a fine job as Chris, our reluctant hero with a fear of the dark and an unfortunate habit of blacking out in strange bathrooms. The highlight of his performance comes during the party scene as he is forced to react to an increasingly dangerous and bizarre set of surroundings. There are a few inconsistencies in his behavior, but that is likely the fault of the writing and not his performance. John Fallon (100 Feet) and Blandine Marmigère as John and Claire are fine in their supporting roles, but they both disappear for long stretches of time before showing up conveniently whenever Wolfrom needs them.
Dead Shadows has a lot of potential, but the script races past too many ideas before fully exploring the possibilities. The story itself is cool, but a lack of character development and increasing number of plot holes prevent this from becoming a truly satisfying experience. The already-brief running time (76 minutes) is actually 10 minutes shorter thanks to a pair of five-minute credit sequences that bookend the finished film. It will be interesting to see what Cholewa does next with stronger material and a larger budget, but for now, if you are a fan of movies about things that go gloop in the night, then this might be worth tuning in for a late-night screening on cable TV.
Video and Audio:
Although the cover art (and IMDB) list the original aspect ratio as 2.35:1, the picture has been opened up for this release to 1.85:1. A strong transfer offers plenty of small-object detail without compromising the quality of framing compositions. Colors and flesh tones appear natural and while much of the action takes place in the shadows, both contrast and black levels are solid.
The default DTS-HD MA 5.1 French language track is pretty impressive in its use of the surround mix. Audio cues are effective and dialogue remains clear and free from distortion. Stereo fans will be happy to note the inclusion of a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix that is also simple and effective in presentation. Also included is a pair of English language dubs that match their French counterparts in terms of audio presentation. The dubbing is not terrible, but the delivery is reminiscent of the acting in a video game. English subtitles are provided and the dub tracks match the translation exactly.
David Cholewa appears in a half-hour interview in which he discusses the history of the production. There is not an interviewer or moderator to keep things moving. Instead, the questions appear in title cards taken from a German source (rather than being translated for the English markets) and his answers are spoken in French with English subtitles. The piece is informative but not terribly exciting, as it consists of a simple locked-off shot of Cholewa sitting on a couch jabbering away.
Although listed as deleted scenes, the disc actually contains two quick scene extensions that together run 49 seconds. No explanation is offered and the changes are minimal and unsatisfying.
A look at some of the unfinished visual effects shots (lasting only 32 seconds) is self-explanatory. To be honest, the “deleted scenes” would have fit nicely here.
A short featurette on the special effects runs just under four minutes and provides a series of before and after shots of various scenes from the film.
Rounding things out are the film's teaser and full theatrical trailer. The longer trailer is guilty of revealing some of the more interesting moments from the film, but that appears to be the current trend in marketing.