As a comet screams above them in the night sky, half of Paris is partying like it's the end of the world. As it turns out...? Yeah. At first, the infected just seem a little off: mildly creepy, kind of repetitve, unsure what's really going on around them. From there, things start to get violent. Doesn't matter if they're fucking or fighting; it's feral and fatal. After that, the mutations start to kick in... As if that weren't bad enough, it's the dead of night, and geeky IT shut-in type Chris (Fabian Wolfrom) has a thing about the dark. Maybe Paris used to be called the City of Light, but now, not so much. Chris can probably count on one hand the number of people left in the sprawling city, and as luck would have it, two of 'em are pals of his: his foxy and recently single neighbor Claire (Blandine Marmigère) and a one-man-army from the Great White North (John Fallon). If they stay holed up, the aliens are gonna swarm in for sure. If they try to claw their way through the streets of Paris, then...well, it's suicide, but at least there's a chance. Between them and any chance of escape are two and a half million mutant zombies. Giddyup.
Nevermind all those middling reviews of Dead Shadows that have been floating around. I had a blast. Especially from a storytelling perspective, first-time director David Cholewa and screenwriter Vincent Julé have a remarkable sense of economy. This isn't a movie littered with flashbacks or scenes with people standing around an' talking about their feelings. Like a shark on the prowl, it's relentlessly moving. Key characterization and what little exposition there is frequently get doled out during street fights, intergalactic battles royale, or at least a low-key seduction. Chris, Claire, and John are set up just enough to grab your interest, and Dead Shadows is content to let the actors' talents and natural charms take it from there. The characters and premise may sound wafer-thin (which, well, they are), but the movie ultimately makes that an asset rather than a misstep. Once all hell really starts breaking loose a little over a half hour in, Dead Shadows refuses to stop and catch its breath. It's a two-act movie: setup and unrelenting fucking chaos. The screenplay doesn't stop dead in its tracks to explain the origins of the comet or what the aliens' endgame ultimately is. Really doesn't matter. Instead...? Baseball bats and a katana and a shotgun and who knows how much other
Cholewa and Julé are clearly lifelong genre fanatics trying to make their mark. They draw from all sorts of different influences: Cronenbergian body-horror to Night of the Comet to shokushu goukan to Shaun of the Dead to [REC] to Rob Bottin's legendary effects on The Thing all the way to the otherworldly fatal orgasms of Species and Lifeforce. Despite being self-financed and shot on a shoestring, Dead Shadows is remarkably ambitious with its effects work, melding together classic, practical work with plenty of stuff in the digital domain. The CG effects don't always blend in perfectly, but they always rank as at least good enough, and being able to see the seams pairs pretty nicely with the gonzo, over-the-top feel of the flick. The visuals are stylish as hell too, and I'm really looking forward to what Cholewa and company deliver next. Dead Shadows heaps on scores of hideously deformed mutants, plenty of sex, aliens, sci-fi, splattery horror, and two-fisted action, and it swoops in and out before possibly overstaying its welcome. Minus credits, its runtime is only a little over an hour.
Only a few things really stand in the way of Dead Shadows being an instant cult classic. John Fallon is outstanding but kind of underutilized. I honestly would've loved to have seen Dead Shadows be a little longer to give Fallon's ass-kicker another showcase sequence or two. There's basically nothing in the way of Bruce Campbell's flavor of endlessly quotable dialogue, and the attempts at upending one genre convention in particular (sorry, trying to keep it spoiler-free here) winds up kind of uneven. The screenplay can be awfully lazy, such as the generally pointless attempt at ratcheting up the tension by handing Claire an orphaned kid to protect. Whatever, though. Dead Shadows isn't one for the ages, but it scratched a Sunday afternoon creature feature itch I didn't even know I had. Recommended.
Sure, sure, you have to make slight allowances for a little bit of Skype chatting as well as the night vision mode on Chris' camcorder. After grading on that very slight curve, Dead Shadows looks nice enough in high-def. The movie is saddled with fairly soft edges and somewhat flat contrast, although I think that has more to do with the choice of camera than anything about this Blu-ray disc specifically. Don't let that scare you off, though; you can still tell with a glance that this is genuine HD video. Dead Shadows is bathed in blues as you'd expect for a genre flick set mostly during the dead of night, and the palette leans gray and overcast even when the sun is out. Some video noise does creep in during more dimly-lit shots, which can present some modest hiccups for the encoder, and I infrequently spotted a
Dead Shadows and its extras creep onto the second layer of this BD-50 disc. The movie's presented at the unconventional aspect ratio of 2.00:1, and the whole thing has been encoded with AVC.
Dead Shadows piles on four lossless soundtracks. This Blu-ray disc delivers its audio in the movie's native French as well as in English, and there are stereo and 5.1 mixes in each language. Even better, it's 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio across the board too. It's also heartening to see that Dead Shadows defaults to its original language.
There is a bit of a trade-off, though. The English 5.1 soundtrack snarls with a little more ferocity than Dead Shadows does in French. It's not a night and day difference, but the English track is noticeably more forceful, such as when Chris strolls into the apocalyptic house party. The performances in the English dub are dreadfully stilted and unnatural, and the dialogue is cringingly tin-eared. "He has no pals!" "Am I hot or not? Don't you wanna hump me?" The dialogue in the English dub is also word-for-word identical to the subtitles that optionally play along with the original French audio. It's hard for me to call them "dubtitles", though, because of all the lip flap in the English dub. I don't know if director David Cholewa slapped together an English script and told whoever recorded it to make it work or what. I just can't fathom that a native English speaker could've written these lines. At least the lines in the English dub are cleaner and clearer, while the recording of the original French dialogue is more uneven and occasionally even distant sounding.
Dead Shadows doesn't really take advantage of all the different speakers at its fingertips. The use of the surround channels tends to be pretty low-key, even when gunfire is being sprayed all over the place. The subwoofer only sporadically gets a workout, such as tanks rumbling down the road and the colossal explosion near the end. Even with all the shotgun blasts and legions of kinda-sorta-zombies getting curbstomped, there aren't those satisfyingly bassy cracks or crunchy, meaty thuds. Fiercely independent genre flicks often go kind of nuts with their audio since that's one way to get the biggest bank for their buck. Dead Shadows, meanwhile, is totally listenable but just not nearly as cinematic as I would've liked.
No combo pack or UltraViolet digital copy code or anything this time around. You do score some reversible cover art and a slipcase, though.
The Final Word
If you're aching for lush characterization and a deep, involving story, Dead Shadows probably isn't gonna be the movie for you. Me, though...? I'm in for a French splatter flick that spends half its sixty-something-minutes-minus-credits runtime skewering, whomping, and gunning down otherworldly zombified mutants. I don't know how much staying power a movie like this has to offer, so you might be better off with a rental, but genre fanatics will probably find Dead Shadows worth watching at least once. Recommended.