It’s never an easy venture to take a film serious when it begins with “based on a true story”. What usually happens more times than not, is that the device is used to create more hype than what the reality of the story really is. Growing up, every kid in school talked so much about THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS or THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE being “true stories”, that it caused those films to scare the living hell out of me even more than they would otherwise..but unlike those films, Matthew Arnold’s SHADOW PEOPLE employs the same “hey this actually happened” angle, without giving viewers any real reason to care.
After an opening that’s straight out of Wes Craven’s explanation of how he decided to make A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET involving a kid dying in his sleep, SHADOW PEOPLE almost instantly decides to give its viewers two extremely varying takes on the film’s story. We follow talk radio DJ Charlie Crowe (played sufficiently by THE WALKING DEAD and THE GREY‘s Dallas Roberts), who one night gets a caller claiming to be stalked by “shadow people”, eventually resulting in said caller’s death. Little by little, and eventually with the help of a Dr. from the CDC (played by Alison Eastwood), Charlie begins to piece together the mystery of the shadow people and uncovers more than he had bargained for. Soon after, the shadow people begin to kill listeners of Crowe’s show, and eventually begin to stalk Charlie himself.
The premise alone is an interesting one, and to be perfectly honest, Dallas Roberts turns in a great performance as Charlie. The issues that the film suffers from though, are definitely more than its share, making it interesting one moment and downright irritating the next. Instead of being a straight narrative film, we get two sides: the Charlie Crowe played by Roberts and the “real” Charlie Crowe played by an uncredited actor, in a series of “real footage” interviews/newscasts that really makes the film almost unwatchable at times. As a viewer, you’re supposed to follow Roberts’ impressive performance one second, then instantly follow an actor that couldn’t look or act any more differently than Roberts. It makes the film completely uneven, and hard to get through, as the addition of the “real” footage seems almost like complete filler, as if Arnold didn’t have a complete script to work with. That, on top of never actually providing any real scares throughout the film, (aside from stock jump scares that we’ve all seen a few dozen times by now) we’re never given a real reason to care for anyone involved. It would’ve been nice to see what the film could have been, had Arnold focused more on character development and not on trying way too hard to convince viewers of the “real” events.
It’s a pity, because like every other role he’s been in, Roberts’ is more than decent in the film. Unfortunately though, SHADOW PEOPLE never rises above treating its audience like they’re not smart enough to follow what’s going on, attempting to over-explain the “real events” and ending up being something closer to a Court TV show than an interesting take on supposed true occurrences.
SHADOW PEOPLE is now available on Bluray/Dvd via Anchor Bay Entertainment.