IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON
(director: Jim Mickle; screenwriters: Gregory Weidman/Geofffrey Tock; cinematographer: David Lanzenberg; editor: Michael Berenbaum; music: Jeff Grace; cast: Boyd Holbrook (Thomas “Locke” Lockhart), Cleopatra Coleman (Rya), Bokeem Woodbine (Maddox), Michael C Hall (Holt), Trisha Blair (Nurse), Rudi Dharmalingam (Naveen Rao), Rachel Keller (Jean, Locke’s wife); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Brian Kavanaugh Jones, Ben Pugh, Rian Cahill, Linda Moran, Jim Mickle; Netflix; 2019)
“A clever but chaotic mix of time-travel, genre-bending, a serial-killer drama, a gory splatter film and a psychological thriller.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A clever but chaotic mix of time-travel, genre bending, a serial-killer drama, a gory splatter film and a psychological thriller. Unfortunately it makes no sense even if compelling in its filmmaking and worthy in its risk taking.The pretentious title is derived from the ambitious film’s insane belief that the villain’s balmy solution to solve the cycle of racism is through envisioning a serial killing every nine years (thinking time heals all wounds).
It’s a low tech sci-fi film centered around a bland lead character, who undergoes a complete personality change during the course of the narrative. Even if it moves too slowly to get to its bizarre point in time for me not to nod off, it’s oddly watchable if you don’t mind ignoring the plot strains, all its silliness and that it’s incomprehensible despite clumsily summed up in the end narration.
Director Jim Mickle (“Cold in July”/”We Are What We Are”) does well in the technical skills department, leaving it visually attractive, but stumbles when he has to deal with keeping his obsessive main character real and also when dealing with the head-scratching script by writers Gregory Weidman and Geofffrey Tock.
In 1988, the young Philadelphia beat officer Thomas Lockhart (Boyd Holbrook), called Locke, on his graveyard shift, investigates a strange murder on a bus. He believes he will get promoted to detective like his snarky detective brother-in-law Holt (Michael C Hall) by solving this mysterious serial killer case, and it thereby becomes his life task to track the serial killer. Meanwhile, that same night, his pregnant wife (Rachel Keller) goes into labor and dies delivering a baby girl.
The killer’s crimes defy any explanation, which eventually leave the obsessed cop thinking he’s losing his mind and his career, as he ends up in the future as a fallen cop living alone out of his car.
It opens with a prologue in 2024 by showing the aftermath of a terrorist bombing–smashed office windows on a street filled with chaos–to only abruptly return to 1988 and for us to observe police investigators working on the 3 illogical but similar deaths on that same night — a diner cook at the grill, a concert pianist in performance and a bus driver carrying a book about Thomas Jefferson. Each dies with their brains scrambled, blood seeping out of their noses, ears, and eyes and all are left completely drained of blood. There are also puncture marks in their necks.
The 2-hour B-film drags us through the following time periods: 1988, 1997, 2006, 2015, and 2024, as we begrudgingly in each time period learn a little more about the crimes. The more we learn, the less interesting the film becomes.
Things windup in 2024, where it began, with the police detectives Locke along with his partner Maddox (Bokeem Woodbine) learning that each victim has been injected with an unstable isotope. The question becomes who injected them and who is supplying the chemical and for what reason.The first part is answered when Locke nabs a strange figure running around the city in a blue hoodie and sporting a shaven-head, the African-American avenging angel named Rya (Cleopatra Coleman, Australian actress). Strangely she knows about Locke’s personal life, and seems mortal until even that seems doubtful when she lives to return in the next 9-year cycle despite run over by a subway train. As for the chemical supplier, he’s a nerdy mad scientist (Rudi Dharmalingam, Indian-British actor) with a socially progressive plan to make the world a better place that could have been hatched in an insane asylum.
The mix of a procedural crime story with a time-travel one never works as intended. But the film was so bonkers and so insanely earnest in believing in its incredulous theme and in its belief that the weird story could be rationally explained, that I mercifully found it to be a bad film that was so bad it was good.
It mixes the procedural crime elements of David Fincher’s Zodiac with a time-travel story that follows the outlines of James Cameron’s The Terminator, and leaves us with tormented characters trying to survive and say something profound under the spell of the blood moon.
REVIEWED ON 9/25/2019 GRADE: B-