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IMDb's plot description makes reference to a "shadow world between life
and death." This had me go in thinking we were about to be treated to a
journey through an imagining of what lies beyond, disturbing
dreamscapes and such. But this is not that.
What this is, is a horror movie. It starts out with standard Japanese horror fare that we saw migrate to America about ten years ago, ala "The Ring" and "The Grudge", ghosts comprised of people with creepy contact lenses clawing at legs.
It then turns into something less subtle and more Sam Raimi: Travel to distant lands where only the natives retain the ancient knowledge required to defeat the evil. It gets rather silly, without being charming. Raimi's sense of ironic detachment isn't there, nor is any feeling of adventure or intensity, at least one of which you'd hope would be there.
The acting is all well and good, with William Hurt and Cary Elwes performing as expected. Other aspects of the production are also nicely done, but the second-time director doesn't seem sure what he wants to evoke in the audience. I can't call it "bad" per se, but I still can't see this being worth anyone's time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Let's get the nitpicky bitching out of the way up front. First, the
title change from "Shadows" was a laughably poor decision. At best it
is completely irrelevant to the film, and at worst it is deceptive.
Second, I would argue against the characterization of this film as a horror movie. Yes, there are some some moments which make the viewer jump, but that is not this film's purpose. The startling moments seem intended to jolt you to attention to what is happening in the scene.
When you lose a loved one, especially when you lose them to unnatural causes, people repeat the exact same platitudes over and over, the platitudes you have heard endlessly repeated your entire life, in person and in film and the written word. Not out of unkindness or indifference but because they feel obligated to speak to the occasion but there is absolutely nothing one can can say that could be genuinely comforting. One of those platitudes is that "a part of you will always be with them" and "a part of them will always be with you". I heard that many times when my own mother died and which, due to the circumstances of her death, was a particularly inappropriate comment. Perhaps that is why I so appreciated this film taking that bromide literally.
Jeff Matthews has lost his wife and son in a car accident that left him unconscious for weeks and forced him to learn to walk again. When he wakes, he feels little to nothing for his loss but not as part of 'normal' grieving; he has literally left a part of himself behind with his family and it causes violent, deeply disturbing auditory and visual...hallucinations? Or true visions? (Or is there a difference, and that's a different conversation and film). When these begin occurring in public places, his private nurse Choy becomes concerned enough that she consults a family member who is in touch with the other side of reality, if you will. Her aunt realizes that Matthews did not let go of his family but left his soul with them, hence his inability to feel but also what is keeping the vale open, forcing the visions upon him, and will soon kill his body. She takes them to Warren, whom she believes is uniquely able to help, when she damages herself trying to help Matthews on her own. Warren is reluctant to help at first but finally agrees to show Matthews and Choy how to save Matthews' life.
You don't get any backstory on Matthews, which is good, it would only have served as a distraction. All you learn in the opening sequence is how much he loves his family, why they are in Bangkok, and that is all you need. He is angry about what has happened to him, not just the loss but all the consequences of that loss, and Elwes plays the anger well and real. Short, impatient, no speeches expounding on it or justifying it. His relationship with Choy is ambiguous, perhaps deliberately, without clarity on whether Choy is fully in love with Matthews or has just come to care for him over those many weeks and does not want to see him suffer. It is not important to the story and the ambiguity does not leave any loose ends, in my opinion.
I've always enjoyed William Hurt and he gives another one of his excellent performances here. Some of the dialogue is a bit hackneyed - I've always thought English too limited in vocabulary and voice to satisfactorily express abstracts ideas and multisensory experiences - but Hurt's less-is-more style gives him the singular gift to make his lines perfectly natural and understandable. And as you learn, his character can do this because Warren has walked this very road himself.
The beings in the shadows are perhaps where someone got the clever idea to rename the film "Hellgate", as they do appear demonic, although they did not seem to me to be even sentient. There is also a physical gate. I think shadow things represent how grasping and relentless and ubiquitous our past can be, how difficult it can be to break its hold. Matthews sets out to do this with Choy's help and while Warren starts out as merely a guide, in the end he takes an active role, which gives him the unexpected chance to do the same for himself, having failed once before.
Some might think this film a bit too cerebral and not enough fright action, but as I stated earlier, this could come of being misled by the revised title. As much as I appreciated the overall lack of exposition I also appreciated the lack of an epilogue, two bad habits of American film. I didn't need the film wrapped up in a pretty bow with a "and these are the lessons we've learned" vignette tacked on at the end. This was just one chapter in Matthews' life (and Choy's and Warren's, for that matter); that life will continue after this episode. How that life plays out is up to them. They have let go of old things, perhaps taken hold of new, and come through with all their pieces intact.
The American Jeff Mathews (Cary Elwes) returns to Bangkok with his
beloved wife Kyle Matthews (Chanin Goldsmith) and son Som Mathews
(Paula Taylor) to visit Kyle's parents. Jeff is a businessman that met
Kyle in a business trip and married her. Jeff stops the car in a red
light and a pickup crashes his car. Five weeks later, Jeff awakes from
the coma and learns that Kyle and Som died in the accident. The nurse
Choi Luang (Ploy Jindachote) treats Jeff carefully but instead of
recovering, he has dreadful visions and nightmares with ghosts and
Choi takes Jeff to the aunt of her cousin Mae Noi (Viyada Umarin) and she explains that he is experiencing the World of Shadows, where people suffer their last moments over and over in the darkness. Soon Jeff learns that his connection with the World of Shadows is very strong and Mae Noi tells that they need help. They go to the house of Warren Mills (William Hurt) and Jeff learns that his soul is trapped in the World of Shadows, and he need to go there to bring his soul back and be one again.
"Shadows", a.k.a. "Hellgate", is a great ghost story about tormented souls and spiritual world. I am not a believer but I enjoyed this movie a lot, which is underrated in IMDb. Jeff's visions are scary and gruesome and the plot is well-resolved. I have never had a chance to visit Thailand but the beautiful locations in this movie are breathtaking. My vote is seven.
Title (Brazil): "Sombras do Além" ("Shadows from Beyond")
The title is a little misleading since it would give the impression we have to do with a horror movie.And that is not the case. The original title Shadows makes much more sense.Shadows is more a science fiction with supernatural elements.Knowing this beforehand will save you some disappointment.Since overall Shadows is not scary.It does deal with ghosts and does have some creepy elements.But these are far from frightening.The acting by Cary Elwes and William Hurt is sufficient but it is obvious that Hurt is not giving his best.It's nice to see a USA/Thailand co production like this.I hope we will see more of this if only they would think of better plots that make much more use of the locale and the mysticism.This films is hard to recommend.It's a decent film.But that is all there is.There is nothing that really stands out that would make it worth your time.One to watch on a rainy Sunday.
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