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Director: David Cholewa
Cast: Fabian Wolfrom, John Fallon, Blandine Marmigère
Length: 75 min
Label: Shout! Factory
Release Date: May 29, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: French: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0
- Making-Of Special Effects Featurette
- Deleted Scenes
- Interview with David Cholewa
- Original theatrical trailer and teaser trailer
“It’s true, in France, we speak of auteurs, and I think we’re right, to speak of auteurs when talking about John Carpenter; because to me, he’s a real auteur, with a real fascination with evil, in different forms, different faces. And for me, he’s my favorite director by far. And, I tried to inspire myself by his cinema…at a much smaller scale,” says David Cholewa of his directorial debut, Dead Shadows. The film, a hypertextual amalgamation borrowing from Carpenter, Japanese manga, comic books and video games, has just been given the Blu-Ray treatment from Shout! Factory. Shout! Factory, generating most of their acclaim in the horror community through their imprint Scream Factory’s various reissues (including many Carpenter titles), have been of late venturing into unchartered waters. Dead Shadows reflects this movement forward in Scream Factory’s evolution. With these new releases it seems that Shout! Factory may be trying to anticipate films that will later garnish cult followings, or maybe they are trying to give these films the avenue to harbor cult status, either way we are excited to see what this evolution brings.
Dead Shadows is a lot of things: a monster movie, a zombie movie, a love story and an action film. Following the story of Chris (newcomer Fabian Wolfrom), the film opens up ten years in the past, at the passing of Haley’s Comet. The prologue serves to foreshadow the events to come, as well as set up Chris’ suffering anxieties and the death of his parents. These events will go on to shape the rest of the film but, because of inconsistent writing, in varying degrees. Flash-forward to the present, Chris is now working as a computer technician from the confines of his cramped apartment. Wasting no time, the film projects itself almost immediately into action. The remainder of the film is predominantly filled with action scenes, plotting Chris against the coming apocalypse and the onslaught of human-monster hybrids.The plot structure is a bit rushed; elements almost forced into the structure. In the included interview, Cholewa mentions there being a tumultuous writing process, where boundaries were continually expanded as the film’s budget grew. It is most likely because of this back and forth between the writer and director, paired with the film’s small budget, that the film leaves a lot of questions unanswered. If you are looking for a solid, hole-free plot this is not the film for you, but if you are able to suspend your criticism and take the film as a ride, you should be able to find something of interest in Dead Shadows.
Perhaps the most off-putting aspect of the film is the inclusion of the digital effects. While they exist in varying degrees of success, overall it is safe to say they reflect the film’s budget the most. There is a sort of charm to effects, in the same way that we look back at the low-budget practical effects of the 80s. It is far easier to criticize contemporary use of digital effects in face of the nostalgic, practical past; the effects will be one of the most criticized aspects of the film, perhaps this is unfair.Maybe the low-budget effects are a representation of the director’s lack of interest in the film’s violence, favoring creating sympathetic characters. Cholewa has stated that the film was never about the violence but about connecting the audience with the characters, “Today’s films are very violent, very (Pause) desensitized, very cold, with characters very removed from us.”
There is one shot that emerges from the film, rather late in the runtime, that is remarkable. Tracking a young boy through the fog and destruction that is now Paris, the shot encompasses a visual aesthetic that will remind viewers of Escape from New York. Is the composition of this shot that leaves us to believe that, while Dead Shadows may be flawed, Cholewa may be a name to watch.
The 1080p AVC encoded release is a bit challenging. There are moments where the picture is superb and shines. Other times, however, the picture suffers from a severe lack of contrast. In some of the darker scenes (which dominate most of the short runtime) the film looks drab, with a large amount of digital noise creeping in, most likely due to underexposure. The film suffers from the usual downfalls of low-budget independent digital filmmaking. Overall, the picture is decent, but nothing that will wow viewers.
Overall, the audio mix is handled properly. Featuring both DTS HD Master 5.1 and 2.0 mixes, in original French (alongside an English redub for those uninterested in reading subtitles in both 5.1 and 2.0), the disc has more audio features than your average horror Blu-Ray. Both the soundtrack and dialogue are presented in a clean manner, with no noticeable errors. The only complaint (and this is of the film and not the Blu-Ray itself) is with the sound effects, which at times are cartoonish and distracting.
Shout! Factory is sometimes wavering in their inclusion of features, but that cannot be said of this release. The disc features an interview with Director David Cholewa, Making-of Special Effects Featurette, Deleted Scenes, and both the Teaser Trailer and original Theatrical Trailer. The deleted scenes are underwhelming, featuring only a few shots, most of which were largely featured in the film with only a few moments cut off. Similarly, the Making-of featurette is nothing spectacular, but offers the viewer a nice glimpse of the digital effects, in a before-and-after style montage. It probably won’t generate multiple viewings, but is definitely an appreciated addition for fans of digital special effects. The features really shine with the addition of the 33-minute interview with Cholewa. The interview, which must of originated via a German publication, covers a lot of what went into Cholewa’s transition from distributor to first-time filmmaker. One of the best aspects of the interview is that it depicts Cholewa as foremost a fan. Finally, the introduction of the teaser trailer and the Theatrical Trailer, gives the audience a great insight into the marketing of the film; taking on special significance in the case of Dead Shadows as the film was, due to Cholewa’s position as film distributor, being sold before it was even made.
Overall, the film is far from perfect, but definitely carves a place for itself among horror fans. A love-letter to Carpenter and 80s American cinema, the film is short and fairly entertaining, failing to overstay its welcome. Perhaps suffering most from the tiny budget, there exist enough aspects of the film that highlight Cholewa’s promise.