THE SHADOW WITHIN is a supernatural thriller and an Italian made movie, but if you’re one of those people who have a hard time with subtitles, don’t worry, all the characters speak proper English with very posh British accents (damn you non-readers!). While the director of this little indie gem, Silvana Zancolothis, seems more influenced by directors like M. Night Shyamalan (ugh!) and unfortunately less by his Italian predecessors Bava, Fulci, and Argento, his film is not a complete waste of time (which is more than I can say about Shyamalan’s last 3 or 4 films).
Zancolothis’ movie pretty much echoes the sentiment of Stephen King’s PET SEMETERY in that sometimes dead is better. It tells the story of Maurice, a young boy with a supernatural and mysterious connection to his dead twin brother that died at birth. He lives with his domineering mother (Hayley J. Williams) that treats him more like hired help than a son while sheltering him away from the world. As his mother becomes more and more obsessed with the son that died, young Maurice (played superbly by Laurence Belcher) strives to be a normal kid, but the ghost of his brother constantly taunts him. Luckily for Maurice, his school’s nurse (Beth Winslet, Kate Winslet’s little sister) takes an interest in him when he comes down with a fever that could kill most other children his age yet hardly affects him. The nurse tries to reach out to Maurice’s mother, only to be shunned. Soon some other mothers in the neighborhood find out about the Maurice’s powers and want to use him as a conduit to the great beyond to speak to their own dead children.
The dark tone of the proceedings fits perfectly with the wintry Italian countryside where it was filmed. Everything about the movie is cold, from the set to the overall atmosphere. The film could have benefited from more lush cinematography (it looks like a made-for-British-TV movie), but it’s obvious that the production has a modest budget, so I forgive it. Speaking of things I’ll forgive, I know some will balk at the use of CGI, but coming from someone that hates most CGI effects, I found the effects used here to be very fitting and dare I say it…cool! Sure, I would like to have rather seen some old school effects here, but hey, if it works, it works. Since I’m in a forgiving mode, I’ll also forgive the editor of the film for having so many scenes end abruptly – what the hell was up with that? Obviously, the editing process was rushed, which probably had to do with the budget restraints, so all is forgiven. Who says critics can’t be understanding?
Yes, the film has its flaws, but it’s still very well made, with terrific performances by the cast, and a score that is as bombastic as any modern American blockbuster. The great score helps a lot because, man, this one is a slow boiler of a flick. Which brings me to the crux of my final analysis: THE SHADOW WITHIN is obviously a horror movie at its core, yet I doubt it will appeal to most modern horror fans. Fans of 60’s and 70’s Euro-horror may dig it, but may not be down with its modern style. As a thriller, it’s not really all that thrilling. It doesn’t really work as a mystery either, unless you like really predictable mysteries. As a “ghost” movie, you better be one patient SOB because you have to wait until the climax for any ghostly payoff. So who is this film suppose to appeal to? I can’t really say, but I thought THE SHADOW WITHIN was decent and certainly worth the time I spent watching it.