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Dead Shadows

Director: David Cholewa
Cast: Fabian Wolfrom, Blandine Marmigere, John Fallon

(US DVD: 29 Apr 2014)

Dead Shadows is a French sci-fi horror movie about the end of the world, or at least the end of the part of it known as “Paris”. The film is crisply paced and keeps the shocks coming at regular intervals, while the French setting and details – like the Francophone hip-hop on the soundtrack – add a degree of interest that would otherwise be absent.


The story focuses on Chris, a 20-something computer whiz who finds himself caught in a nightmarish Paris following the appearance of a virus-bearing comet in the nighttime sky. Chris is a likeable sort, but pretty much a cipher: he’s cute, shy, a bit geeky, and something of a freak magnet. He plays computer games in a tiny apartment decorated with action figures and movie posters from films like Escape from New York.


We barely have chance to meet him, though, before weird stuff starts happening. First, people start acting a little weird, then irrational, then scary. Then they start, like, melting, or becoming hyper-violent zombies. And then they begin mutating into something else altogether, involving claws and tentacles and so on.


Movies like this follow a predictable pattern of things getting creepy, then frightening, then more and more dangerous. There are spooky scenes in enclosed spaces and lots of stuff happening under the cover of night. Much of the first half of the movie is spent setting up the situation and the characters, such as they are, while the second half runs those characters through a gauntlet of ever-increasing hazards.


In this film, those hazards run the gamut from the predictable to the grotesque. There are street hoods and strange women with their come-ons and spooky folks muttering nonsense in the shadows. Later, the dangers ramp up to include sharp-edged talons, melting flesh and, eventually, hordes of tentacle-imbued mutations. There is a genuinely disgusting moment of sexual horror-gore involving a monster penis, which viewers will either respect for its audaciousness or feel revolted by (or perhaps both), along with plenty of dripping blood and melting flesh.


Indeed, Dead Shadows doesn’t shy away from gross-out moments, and isn’t afraid to throw them at the viewer unexpectedly. At a brisk 76 minutes, the movie doesn’t waste a lot of time, but the second half of the film, though laden with disturbing images, still has numerous weak moments (a silly fistfight, too many close-ups in dark environments that try to hide the film’s low budget, and so on).


As mentioned, protagonist Chris is a bit of a non-character, but actor Fabian Wolfrom imbues him with as much life as the screenplay allows. There are some good performances, notably Blandine Marmigère as Claire, the hot neighbor who teams up with John both before and after the apocalypse begins in earnest, as well as John Fallon as John, a local thug neighbor who provides the anxiety-prone Chris with some much-needed muscle in facing down the evening’s monsters. Then again, the monsters might be the least of John’s worries.


The visuals and sound quality are as clear as could be desired, maybe even more so. Much of the film takes place at night, and director David Cholewa takes advantage of lighting effects such as streetlamps streaming through half-closed blinds. The significant amount of CGI done here, namely all those tentacles, is for the most part convincingly handled. Viewers averse to unsteady, handheld camera work might want to give this one a miss, as there is plenty of it on display here. So too might action fans, as many of the action sequences are surprisingly unrealistic, even the basic stuff like hand-to-hand combat.


Extra features are typical for a production of this sort, including a making-of featurette that focuses on the special effects, and a couple of non-essential alternate takes and deleted scenes. A lengthy interview with director Cholewa touches on multiple topics but comes off mainly as a bit of self-promotion, while a couple of trailers rounds out the offerings.


The story arc here will surprise no one, but the movie’s visual verve and over-the-top gore render it a bit more diverting than standard-issue low-budget horror fare. Gorehounds who are looking for something a little different – a bit of Eurohorror with a slightly different look from American fright fests – will want to take a look.

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DAVID MAINE is a novelist and essayist. His books include The Preservationist (2004), Fallen (2005), The Book of Samson (2006), Monster, 1959 (2008) and An Age of Madness (2012). He has contributed to The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Esquire.com and NPR.com, among other outlets. He is a lifelong music obsessive whose interests range from rock to folk to hip-hop to international to blues. He currently lives in western Massachusetts, where he works in human services. Catch up with his blog, The Party Never Stops, at davidmaine.blogspot.com, or become his buddy on Facebook (or Twitter or Google+ or whatever you prefer) to keep up with reviews and other developments.


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