There was a time when Italians ruled the earth. No, I'm not talking about that whole Roman Empire thing, I mean that golden period in the 1970s when the baddest gunslingers, the most violent cops and the meltiest zombies all came straight out of Italy. For that brief time, even the worst Italian genre movies were still pretty good, or at the very least had a kickass soundtrack. Then, as quickly as it started, it was all over. Sometime during the 80s Italian horror just seemed to dry up and blow away leaving behind no evidence of the indelible mark it made on the genre. Ask your average horror fan their favorite Italian horror movie and they'll probably have a hard time choosing. Ask them to name a notable Italian horror movie made in the last twenty years and they'll probably have a hard time coming up with one. (note- Dario Argento's recent output doesn't count because as we all know he died in that tragic 1989 plane crash that also took the lives of George Romero, George Lucas and Metallica, all of whom died nobly without ever tarnishing their respective legacies.)
Being marketed as the return of Italian horror is some pretty heavy boots for any movie to fill and a lightweight collection of genre tropes like “Shadow” never had a chance to live up to its marketing. It does somewhat live up to its pedigree in one respect: much like the Italian films of old, it takes the trendy horror elements of the day and dresses them up with some nice visuals and a decent soundtrack. Too bad it never transcends the movies it's aping.
The film concerns an Iraq War veteran named David who takes a European mountain biking vacation after his tour of duty is up. While out biking he meets the girl of his dreams and runs afoul of some Euro-rednecks on a hunting excursion. Despite the fact that most of the first half of the movie is dedicated to a game of cat and mouse between the hunters and the mountain bikers, the movie takes a sharp left turn when both parties run into an especially spooky area that happens to be the setting for a dark local legend. Soon, they all find themselves at the mercy of a creepy, misshapen psycho.
The experience of watching “Shadow” is largely trying to figure out what the hell kind of movie you're watching. Early on, it seemed like a simple enough story about some city slickers getting stalked through the woods. Later, it hints at some supernatural events before going full bore into standard torture porn territory. That doesn't last very long before the torture gives way to more straightforward slasher tropes but just when the movie starts to settle down into one category it takes off with a mighty burst of surrealism and makes a mad dash to the end for a last minute eye-roller of a twist that is shamelessly stolen from another, much better, film. Oh and there's even some heavy-handed political satire thrown in there, most notably in a scene where the hero comes across side-by-side portraits of Stalin and George W. Bush in the bad guy's lair.
The excessive subgenre-hopping comes off as contrived and schizophrenic and the movie feels more than a little self-indulgent. Why is there a scene of the bad guy licking a toad and tripping out to his own reflection? I guess the movie needed some freaky music video style visuals, stat, even if they do make absolutely no sense and have nothing at all to do with the story. If there is a star of this show, it's clearly the visuals, especially any featuring Nuot Arquint as the primary antagonist. Make this guy the monster in a halfway decent movie and he'll make a comfortable living off the convention circuit for the rest of his life. This guy looks like somebody Michael Berryman would have nightmare about. You know all the urban legends about how Max Schreck was a real vampire? I would not be surprised if this guy has a few skeletons under his dirt floor basement. There are a few scenes of this guy not doing much more than being goddamn weird-looking and scary that are almost worth sitting through the rest of the movie for.
A few atmospheric shots of a freaky dude don't make a movie, though, and those shots aside, there's not much else to recommend “Shadow”. It's a competent but generic smorgasbord of modern horror tropes rolled up into one 90 minute package. You could do worse, but you could do much, much better. Looks like we'll have to wait a little longer for the Italian horror renaissance.