Among the many failings of The Walking Dead is stranding a good actor like Dallas Roberts, whose job as Woodbury scientist Milton Merle is to look concerned while less capable actors talk at him. To realize that Roberts is a good actor, you’d have to see what a perfect foil he is to Liam Neeson in Joe Carnahan’s existential survival drama The Grey, or you’d have to notice his small memorable role in the overlooked evil kid thriller Joshua. Because you certainly wouldn’t know he’s a good actor from Shadow People, in which Roberts is miscast as a burned-out, world weary, supposedly mellifluous radio talk show host who sometimes looks more like Val Kilmer than Dallas Roberts.
Shadow people are a silly concept pretty much invented by radio talk show callers who didn’t have the imagination to actually come up with something scary. The idea is that you see them out of the corner of your eye, or as you fall asleep, or some other time when you can’t really get a good look at them, which is convenient for the sorts of inarticulate folks who call Art Bell. One of the few decent things this movie does is flesh out the shadow people backstory by suggesting they were imported into the modern Western world from Southeast Asia, with the implication being payback for the Vietnam War. It’s less clever how the movie then supposes a viral social media propogation, as if you haven’t seen many horror movies since The Ring.
But it’s downright crass how Shadow People pretends to blend “documentary footage” with dramatization, a conceit ripped off from The Fourth Kind, right down to the refusal to credit the actors playing the characters in the documentary footage. As if this weren’t enough, the movie ends with a bibliography consisting of about eight things the writer/director claims to have read. Next time, I recommend he watch a movie like Mothman Prophecies, which demonstrates that it’s entirely possible to make a creepy movie out of the goofy lore that comes from late night talk radio.
Shadow People is available now on DVD and video on demand.