The last few years have given us time travel films such as Looper, Edge of Tomorrow, and X-Men: Days of Future Past, while yet another Terminator movie is set for release in November. The Netflix-produced thriller In the Shadow of the Moon is the latest addition, and puts an interesting spin on the familiar idea of a killer traveling back through the decades to commit murder.
The movie begins in 1988, where two Philadelphia cops, Lockhart (Boyd Holbrook) and Maddox (Bokeem Woodbine), are investigating a series of bizarre and grisly deaths. Random people are dropping dead from major internal hemorrhaging, seemingly caused by three tiny pin pricks in the backs of their necks. Lockhart corners their suspect, a young, mysterious woman (Cleopatra Coleman), but she is accidentally killed during the encounter. The case is closed, until nine years later, when the murders start again.
In the Shadow of the Moon is not afraid to wear its influences on its sleeve. The opening section uses the ’80s buddy cop movie as its template–with the car chases, authentic period details, and in particular, the funny, easy banter between Holbrook and Woodbine. It calls back to favorites such as Lethal Weapon, The Hard Way, and 48 Hours. It’s an entertaining way for director Jim Mickle to start the film, even though it ultimately heads in a different direction.
That first time jump, nine years into the future, transforms the film into a character-based thriller. Lockhart has suffered a family tragedy that makes his character far more than just a wise-cracking, rule-breaking cop. The difficult relationship with his daughter and an obsession with a case that won’t die might seem like cop movie clichés–because they are–but they are also important parts of the story that ultimately pay off in a satisfyingly emotional way. At the same time, the question of why this time-traveling serial killer is picking off random victims in such a gruesome way, and why she only appears once every nine years, is initially a compelling mystery.
In the Shadow of the Moon’s main problem is the legacy of time travel movies and, ultimately, the familiarity of this type of story. It’s not hard to guess the killer’s ultimate goal, and much of the film plays out in a predictable way. Viewers hoping it might go in the bolder direction that filmmakers like Christopher Nolan or Primer’s Shane Carruth might have taken it will be disappointed. Gregory Weidman and Geoffrey Tock’s screenplay plays it safe throughout and misses the opportunity to push the genre in a particularly original direction. Even by the often contradictory standards of most time travel films, the “science” of this one is poorly explained and really just relies on viewers not bothering to question it too much.
Mickle’s previous films, which include the vampire movie Stakeland, the tough thriller Cold In July, and the cannibal drama We Are What We Are, proved his ability to confidently move between genres. In the Shadow Of The Moon blends its influences well, but it feels a bit more anonymous, and the time travel logic really doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. There’s also a political dimension to the story that ultimately adds nothing beyond making it seem like the film is smarter than it really is.
Nevertheless, the filmmakers deserve credit for putting as much emphasis on the characters as on the action and thrills. Lockhart ends the film several decades older than when he started, but while visually this involves putting some unconvincing wigs and beards on Holbrook, the actor’s impressive performance more than compensates. Woodbine is also terrific as the cynical but loyal partner, while Michael C. Hall is his usual reliable self in a smaller role as Lockhart’s brother-in-law, a senior, by-the-book cop who has little time for wild theories.
Although the end result falls short of its intriguing premise, this is still a slick, entertaining thriller that fans of horror, sci-fi, and action should get something out of. Just don’t look too far beneath the surface.
Source: Game Spot Mashup