Bad Movies Done Right – The Shadows

Every week Robert Saucedo shines a spotlight on a movie either so bad it’s good or just downright terrible. Today: A perfect guide for how not to shoot a low-budget horror movie.

I don’t care how much your movie cost. I’ve seen enough amazing micro-budget films where I no longer believe in Special Olympics movie reviewing. If your movie is bad, it’s bad.

I seriously doubt any amount of extra funding could have drastically saved The Shadows, a new low-budget horror film, from its banal plot and weak characters.

Sabrina Mansfield directed The Shadows from a script by Rusty Davis. Nalita Murray, Paul Collett, Elizabeth O’Brick, Vaz Andreas and Jennifer Boarini star as group of friends who wash up on an abandoned island after their boat is wrecked. Their relief at surviving the boat crash quickly turns to terror when they realize the island isn’t nearly as abandoned as they believed. After hunkering down in a lighthouse, the five friends find that ghosts (of both the young lass and pirate variety) haunt the island and death is a sword point or musket blast away.

The film is scheduled for release early next year but was seemingly shot in 2007 and shelved. There are a few special effects shots in the film that could account for its delay but for the most part, The Shadows is an extremely low-key horror film that relies on its story and characters to build tension instead of using an overabundance of gory makeup or elaborate CGI as a crutch. Unfortunately, the film’s story and characters are almost completely unmemorable.

The Shadows is an amalgam of John Carpenter’s The Fog and Assault on Prescient 13 — with the fixed location and production values of Richard Linklater’s Tape. The film almost entirely takes place within the confines of the rustic lighthouse. The shipwreck that stranded the friends on the island takes place before the movie begins and is only discussed after the fact. By centering the film’s action inside the confines of the lighthouse, a certain claustrophobic atmosphere is flirted with — unfortunately, poor lighting makes the film’s action scenes nearly undecipherable. It’s one thing to make a horror movie moody by avoiding over-lighting the film but The Shadows takes it one step too far. The lighting alternates between bathing the actors in a cartoonish green tint or completely forgoing usable lighting all together.

The only thing more distracting than the film’s poor lighting is the film’s atrocious sound design. Poor audio recording makes the film’s soundtrack a jumbled mess. Dialogue is often undecipherable but sound effects such as thunderclaps or door slams are ratcheted up to 11 — giving the film an unfortunate amateurish appearance.

The film’s plot lacks any memorable addition to the genre. George O’Kreenke plays a burly cloaked pirate who may or may not be an emissary from hell sent to claim the souls of the damned. A tired plot twist will only add to the eye rolls and groans from audience members as they struggle to finish the film.

The movie is not a straightforward horror film. The Shadows pays just as much attention to the soap opera-like relationship dramas the friends are going through as it does to the ghosts that threaten to kill our heroes. Normally I enjoy a little melodrama in my horror films — it makes caring about the victims that much easier. In The Shadows, though, few of the actors are able to really carry their scenes — making the character development feel like padded filler instead of the film’s backbone.

Nalita Murray is the one standout in the film. The actress shows some true potential as a scream queen. Here’s hoping she finds a project soon that can show off the talent I believe is waiting to emerge.

I love supporting independent filmmaking — especially up-and-coming directors who shoot films for a fraction of what a normal movie would cost to make. The Shadows, unfortunately, is not a film I can get behind. It’s not that the film is especially offensive in its awfulness. It’s a bland exorcise in “seen-it-all-before’s” but the film could have been a lot worse.

What made the film such a chore to get through were the sub-par efforts in the film’s sound and lighting. When making a low-budget film, you can skimp on the special effects and do without amazing production design but if you cut corners when it comes to sound or lighting, you’ll find your movie becomes nearly unwatchable — as was the case with The Shadows.

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