Dead Shadows (2012) begins with Halley’s comet rolling through space. Tentacle-shaped shadows tickle the side of a house as the comet passes overhead. Inside a father checks on his son before the scene takes a turn; the father begins berating his son to his wife, deeming him a wimp. An argument ensues. Climbing out of bed, the boy follows the shouting and arrives in time to witness his father murdering his mother with a knife.
Flash-forward ten years. A tech-troubleshooter is in his room – working and playing an RPG at the same time. Our hero. As Chris (Fabian Wolfrom) goes about his day, we notice that some of Paris’s citizens are in strange spirits; aggressively aroused or otherwise.
At this same time the media are drumming up excitement for Halley’s comet, due to shoot across the sky that night. Insane ramblings from a tramp in a convenience store are just one early indication that the comet’s reemergence may spell trouble.
This is absolutely one of the strengths of David Cholewa’s feature debut. Information trickles in, through people’s behaviour and the media, while never being explicit. Something is happening, and that’s all we and our protagonist initially know. This really gives Dead Shadows a pleasant rhythm in its early progression. Events of the day escalate as the comet closes in on Earth’s atmosphere, and soon it’s clear there’s a connection between the nearing comet and all unusual behaviour.
Later in the day, Chris is invited by his artistic neighbour Claire (Blandine Marmigère) to an ‘end-of-the-world’ party, and the news begins reporting more sinister activities; some keyed up Parisians have crashed their vehicles, robbed stores, and even committed suicide. Dead Shadows is always growing towards something, yet the film is severely held back by its length. It runs at a scant 75 minutes (less, discounting the credits).
As tentacles swoop out of drains, zombies rove the streets, and strange creatures emerge from the shadows, there is only about 25 minutes of the film remaining. From here on out nothing really feels fully developed or explored. Action scenes are too brief, and a state of emergency is in full-force too quickly.
Add to this a romantic quest and some indication of the main character’s diminishing psychological state, and you have a film that’s simply too short for the amount of plates it’s spinning. It’s also during the film’s final third that several moments involving our hero are at odds with the character he’s been established as – a timid guy afraid of the dark and prone to anxiety attacks. Without a strong call-to-action or much renewed intent, a sequence in which he swiftly dispatches of 4 much tougher men feels particularly off-kilter. Having Chris peer down at a discoloured growth on his sweaty belly a few times just isn’t elaboration enough.
By the time we reach a finale – the Eiffel Tower serving as a suitably dramatic backdrop – we’re left feeling that this end is more like the beginning of something bigger than a suitable conclusion to what has gone before. With its steady build-up and initially well-controlled sense of pace, David Cholewa may have a promising career in the horror-genre to come. I just hope his next project feels like a more complete offering.