I’ve experienced night terrors, episodes of sleep paralysis, and other sleep disturbances for most of my life. As I’ve gotten older, I don’t worry about them too much; however, the science behind dreams still fascinates me. It’s the types of nightmares I would sometimes experience, images of shadowy figures that enter my room at night, that are the subject of Shadow People, a low-budget horror film that delivers more confusion than scares. A great effort was made by the marketing team to make you think this movie is real, but without an effective payoff, the docu-fiction approach of the film fails to hit the mark – in fact, it comes nowhere close.
We’re told the film is based on actual events, examining real cases of sudden unexpected nocturnal death syndrome and folklore about shadowy demons that may be the root cause. Shadow People opens with a series of videos, some of which can actually be found on YouTube, that allege a new viral video is making rounds, one that shows proof of the existence of so-called shadow people.
After a crazy call to his radio show leaves several in the community dead, failing late night talk host Charlie Crowe (Dallas Roberts) takes it upon himself to investigate what appear to be new cases of sudden unexpected nocturnal death syndrome – and to be clear, he isn’t just doing this because it’s good for ratings. Charlie’s investigation reveals sleep studies from a mad scientist that seem to solve the mystery: people are dying because shadowy figures are killing them while they sleep.
But the shadow people can only find and murder you if you happen to believe in them, which you absolutely will not if you watch this movie. Alleged archival footage of interviews, news casts, and home movies attempt to tell the “real” story of Charlie Crowe and his investigation. But by introducing the documentary elements into the film, Shadow People loses focus on the simple scares that come from playing into the fears people have about being in the dark alone. When the film focuses on shadows standing in the background, doors that open themselves, and lights that flicker for no reason, it shows glimpses of a film that may have once had a sense of its own identity, long before it became a glorified advertisement for itself.
It’s obvious that writer/director Matthew Arnold has seen The Blair Witch Project, a film which used fake footage and a “true story” gimmick to great effect. Shadow People copies much of the marketing of Blair Witch, putting fabricated evidence online in hopes of selling an audience on the idea that the movie is real. In the end, the problem isn’t the marketing, it’s the film itself. Shadow People simply isn’t compelling or interesting enough to hook you in, and that’s largely because it can’t decide if it’s a mocumentary or an old-fashioned horror flick.
To make matters worse, the final act of the movie deflates any momentum that the previous hour may have built up. Once we learn the truth about these shadow people, anything about them that may have been unsettling is instantly destroyed. There’s no climactic conclusion nor interesting twist to be found; Shadow People doesn’t even consider thinking outside the box. This movie certainly didn’t convince me that the hallucinations I experience in my nightmares are real; I’ll be sleeping comfortably tonight.