By Steph Cannon
Families, at times, can be dysfunctional. Cinema has focused on and exploited this fact for decades. It doesn’t matter if it's drama, comedy, or horror, the desired effect is often one that evokes feelings of innate discomfort. SHADOWS, an Italian-Irish produced post-apocalyptic tale from Director Carlo Lavagna, focuses on the malfunctions between a woman and her two daughters living through the end of the world.
Teenage sisters Alma (Mia Threaplton) and Alex (Lola Petticrew) have spent their entire remembered existence in an abandoned hotel with their overbearing mother (Saskia Reeves) after an unspecified global disaster. Having never known the comforts of a modern way of life, they spend their days in solitude and boredom, learning the essentials of survival from their mother, the only other person they’ve ever been in contact with. Her strict and overprotective ways keep the girls in a regimented day-to-day structure under her constant watchful eye. They are forbidden to venture far from the hotel, particularly at day, when a nebulous threat known only as The Shadows roams the forested area surrounding their dwelling.
No detail is ever given about The Shadows from Mother, other than that they must be avoided at all costs - but that’s the point. The girls take heed with this matter unquestioningly, mostly because they’ve never had any other basis to discern whether someone should or shouldn’t be trusted.
As they’ve gotten older, though, they’ve grown increasingly more inquisitive, and therefore rebellious, when it comes to the outside world. This leads to harsher and more deplorable punishments from Mother, creating a fractured divide between her and her daughters. This is the catalyst that leads the two sisters to further push their boundaries and curiosity to explore that which has been forbidden to them their entire lives. This results in startling discoveries and imperiled situations that shake the very foundation of the only life, and world, they’ve understood.
SHADOWS is a bleak look at how differently individuals can handle an event as cataclysmic as the breakdown of society. It burns slowly for over half of the one hour and forty minute run time, saving the most gripping plot points for the final act. It’s a direct reflection on the life the characters are leading; plodding, monotonous, and quiet. When angled this way, the movie works, but it also suffers under its own weight with missed opportunities.
There are several slowly unfurling plot points that aid in a better understanding of the overall story, but there are just as many (if not more) questions that are left unanswered. Entire motives for certain characters, which seem essential to the plot, are never fully explained. There are moments of ambiguity that feel as though they’ll eventually be made clear, lulling the audience into a false sense of intrigue, only to be shrouded in uncertainty once the credits roll. Most astute viewers will be able to pick up on the direction the story is going well before the reveal happens, largely due to the fact that we’ve seen similar scenarios in films before.
There is an underlying beauty to much of this movie that aids in watchability. James Mather’s cinematography is marvelous, with lighting playing a large role in both tone and storytelling. This helps with the slowness of the pacing for the first half by making it absorbing enough to hold one’s interest.
The performances from the three leads are all stellar, particularly the talent from Threaplton and Petticrew. Both portray their characters with aching realism and vulnerability. There’s never a moment of disbelief or overacting from either actress, and the bond they share is distinctly felt.
These are the threads that help hold SHADOWS together, in spite of its shortcomings and predictability. At its core, this is a movie about the complexity of human bonds, and how easily we can accept and adapt to our surroundings.
SHADOWS is available on a number of digital and cable platforms, including iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, iNDemand and DISH