Shadow Play (1986) Poster


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E.T. phone lighthouses
lee_eisenberg22 December 2011
"Shadow Play" is mostly a corny movie, but it's still pretty enjoyable. Dee Wallace -- Elliot's mom in "E.T." -- plays a playwright who returns to Orcas Island, Washington, near where her lover lost his life some years earlier...but did he totally go away? And what role does the island's lighthouse play? The movie isn't exactly frightening. It's more about the woman's almost fanatical obsession with her lover. And besides, we get to see some great shots of the Puget Sound (if you've never been to the San Juan Islands, you should definitely go there). It's basically the sort of movie that you rent if you want to pass time. But don't get me wrong, it's still pretty fun. Also starring Cloris Leachman.
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An uneventful but potent dose of atmospheric '80s nostalgia
drownnnsoda5 July 2020
"Shadow Play" follows struggling playwright Morgan Hanna, who is still reeling from the apparent suicide of her husband seven years ago, in which he leapt from a lighthouse on his family's property in the San Juan Islands of Washington. At the urging of her former mother-in-law, she decides to spend the summer there to get some writing done...but quickly finds a number of distractions, such as her ex-brother-in-law pursuing her, as well as the ghost of her dead husband appearing to her in reflections.

This little-seen late '80s supernatural thriller has all the cornerstones of a good made-for-TV movie, even though it isn't one: An unsolved death, tarot cards, an ominous lighthouse, ghosts, chain-smoking writers, hazy flashback sequences, an overwrought synth score, and a steamy sex scene in its center. Taken on those terms, the film delivers with more melodrama than you could ever possibly need. The problem? It's just not that eventful. Writer-director Susan Shadburne's script has some musings within it about the writing process and how grief is sublimated into work, but the narrative follows a rinse-and-repeat formula: Dee Wallace's character struggles to write, sees her husband's reflection, is terrified, finds comfort in his brother--repeat innumerably, and you have the crux of this film.

Despite this, there is plenty of fun to be had here for viewers who enjoy movies of the Lifetime ilk, and I will admit that I was taken by the nostalgia of it. The film also bolsters atmospheric locations in the San Juan Islands that are familiar to me as a native of the Pacific Northwest--the natural landscape is drenched in fog, and the familial home in which the bulk of the feature takes place is also appropriately atmospheric. Dee Wallace gives a solid if not overwrought performance here, and Cloris Leachman is great in what is essentially a throwaway role.

All in all, "Shadow Play" is a fairly redundant and uneventful film that feels undercooked at times; however, it is also a great time capsule of the period and epitomizes the melodramatic supernatural thriller/romance that one would often catch on television. A minority amusing, sometime moody, and atmospheric throwback. 6/10.
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Interesting and thoughtful....if you have ever suffered a loss
MarieGabrielle20 October 2006
If you have ever suffered a loss you may find this to be an intriguing film.

I saw this film shortly after I lost my mother to a tragic accident; although this was sometime ago, the line in the film ..."you will not leave until you are ready, the spirit has unfinished business"... has a certain resonance for anyone who has experienced the tragedy of accidental death or suicide.

This was one of those small films on cable in the late 80's; sometimes they were good; sometimes not; it was a mixed bag, but this is a film I have remembered from quite a long time ago. It has a certain cadence.

It is ethereal, and reminiscent of "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir"; Dee Wallace is very good, and I am pleased to learn that she still has an active career. This is a film worth renting (if you can find it). A shame they don't show this on cable anymore. 9/10.
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Subtlety is power (possible spoilers)
balkaster17 October 2002
Warning: Spoilers
I last saw this film when it first appeared on cable, in the late 1980's. What I remember is its subtlety. Since Dee Wallace-Stone's character is the only one who sees the ghost and the ghost never really emerges as a standalone character, you have to wonder whether the ghost really exists or is merely a psychological device created by the heroine's subconscious to help her work through her deep sense of loss. Watch this not as a horror movie but as a sad and romantic ghost story in the vein of "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir." If you value subtlety and storytelling over effects and gore, you may very well like this movie.
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Dull Drama
rudyardellis31 May 2020
Though billed as a horror film or mystery, Shadow Play is much heavier on the drama which would be fine if the drama itself had an urgency to it, but it just goes from scene to scene with no tension or escalation in the stakes. At first, it lulls you into thinking it'll be a slow burning, but competent thriller that's leading up to an exciting final act, but that never happens.

The acting is good, but then again, when have Dee Wallace or Cloris Leachman ever disappointed in that arena? The film is also well shot with some very nice images here and there, but it doesn't add up to much when the story is so lacking.
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unexpected surprise
Depth18 December 2003
I had no expectations when I saw this film. I knew absolutely nothing about it. The theater didn't even have a poster and none of the staff had seen it. The opening scene shows a dark, windswept lighthouse. I thought, "oh no. probably a stupid, low budget, horror film." On the contrary this is an intelligent and thoughtful film. There is poetry read during the film that mirrors much of the action. I judge a film by how long it sticks with me afterward. This film has stayed in my head a very long time.
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I saw this film and thought it was pretty lame.
ottodachat11 January 2007
The characters and writing are pretty poor. Dialog is unrealistic. Besides films about ghosts are lame. The wizard character has this lame line that goes like: "The bow is bent, the arrow flies." Pretty bad. This Shadburn woman must really think she is a great writer to put out crap like that. I'd say watch this film but turn off the audio and put in your own dialog. It seems to work better. Also the character of Morgan screams throughout this film and makes the whole experience into a torturous ordeal.

If you want to see a great ghost story, then I suggest renting the classic with Deborah Kerr "The Innocents." Good movie with disturbing images.
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One of my all times favorite movies
sugarmecici18 November 2016
Warning: Spoilers
I don't recall the first time I saw this movie so many years ago, but it had such an impact on me that I kept researching until I found the name of the movie. I watched it over and over. It brought me to tears each time. I just couldn't stop watching. I even wrote down the poems and kept them in my portfolio. I write poetry and was moved by Dee's character. She has a way of making me feel exactly what she was feeling. Such a shame that no one knows of this movie. I will never forget it. A beautiful but tragic love story. Well worth seeing. My favorite poem from the movie is this: "The past returns to bruise my mind, with all that we had dreamed. With memories of a still born love, and nothing what it seemed. For me the year was vivid gold. No shadows hiding sadness. Your parting secret, swift and sure, has left the scent of madness. "
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