Shadow Hours Review

Although Shadow Hours is undeniably a bad film, it is at least short and fast moving. Isaac H. Eaton's first movie is a mixture of the banal and the derivative and the fact that I didn't find it too boring is probably down to the short running time and the unintentional comedy value.

Basically, it's a cross between Fight Club, After Hours, Bright Lights Big City and The Deer Hunter. Add some S/M sex and a pregnant wife to this unholy mixture and you have a film which is entirely missable but strangely compulsive. Balthazar Getty, the brat from Lord Of The Flies, plays Michael, a gas station attendant working the nightshift. He's a recovering alcoholic, reformed drug addict and general all-round screw-up, trying to go straight in order to be a good father to his unborn child. His wife (Gayheart) is suspicious that he won't be able to kick his various bad habits and her worst fears are confirmed when Michael meets the mysterious Stuart Chappell (Weller). Before you can say Tyler Durden, Stuart is taking Michael on a whirlwind tour of the fleshpots of the big city, buying Michael a suit and introducing him to all manner of dodgy types. Unfortunately, Michael's nocturnal perigrenations coincide with a police investigation of four murders which have occurred near the gas station, so guess who becomes the chief suspect. As if this wasn't enough excitement for one lifetime, Michael also decides that this is a good time to reintroduce himself to the delights of booze and cocaine.

So, what is Stuart ? Is he just a writer researching a book ? A guardian angel ? A trickster ? A demon, or maybe the Devil himself ? The answer is none of the above. He's actually a useful plot device allowing lots of naughty behaviour to be shown with the sort of lip-licking relish so beloved of finger-wagging moralists. We're supposed to believe that Michael goes along with him because he is a writer, but surely no writer (apart from Jeffrey Archer) has ever spent so little time actually writing. Michael emerges as the most annoyingly dim hero in a film since Barney's Great Adventure - and at least Barney had the excuse of being an extinct reptile made out of purple cloth. Consequently, there is no sympathy for him which renders the interminable scenes between him and his wife totally devoid of interest. Getty's bland performance doesn't help much; as executive producer, he presumably had other worries on his mind, such as who on earth is going to want to watch this film.

Luckily for the viewer, the rest of the cast perform some kind of emergency cardiac surgery on the all too obviously failing script. Peter Weller is very good as Stuart, especially considering that he has no character to play other than a mixture of cliches, and he is a useful channel for our interest once we have tired of Getty's limited range of two expressions. Rebecca Gayheart has nothing much to do as Michael's pregnant wife which just about does justice to her talent. Best of all however, the supporting cast is a fine collection of weirdos and hammy character actors, all of whom make the film worth seeing for sleaze fans. In the B-Movie classic cast stakes, this is nearly up there with the all-time winner Escape From LA. At last, we get to see Zed from Pulp Fiction in the same car as Worf from "Star Trek TNG". Peter Greene, the egregious rapist from Tarantino's opus, is meant to be playing a detective, but he's obviously playing Zed's older brother who has joined the police force by some bizarre turn of fate. Michael Dorn is clearly missing his Klingon face mask, since he fixes his face in one grim expression and does a lot of intent staring. Even better than this once-in-a-lifetime collaboration, there are gob-smacking cameos from two great cult movie actors, Brad Dourif and Frederic Forrest. Dourif plays the owner of the gas station and hams with gleeful abandon. Clearly deciding that the script isn't up to much, he adopts a twitch and a strange vocal manner that go some way to livening up the dialogue. Dourif is always worth watching of course, even in total nonsense, and at least he gets a decent bit of screen time here. Forrest (his name misspelled as "Frederick" on the opening credits) has a cameo as a drug dealer who wears a silly hat and might well be a refugee from Wayne's World.

Isaac Eaton adopts a hyperactive style, attempting to dazzle us with endless montages of petrol pumps and fast traffic. His distinctly loose storytelling does at least allow him to linger over the scenes of sex and violence which are presumably the raison d'etre of the film. Two lengthy scenes in an illegal bare-knuckle boxing club are certainly not for the squeamish - although the revelation that Stuart is a crack fighter raises a smile - but I am somewhat confused that the BBFC allowed this on video but cut the far more integral scene of Jared Leto's facial destruction in Fight Club. The even lengthier exploration of an S/M sex club is more unpleasant and, frankly, rather ludicrous since it seems to come directly from other films rather than any observation of real life (not that I am qualified to comment on this point). But, like the similar scenes in The Cell, it has no real narrative purpose other than to shock the somnolent viewer awake. Allegedly, the film is showing us "the abyss" of human deviancy, but having done this it has nothing to say except that we all have a dark side. Well, we already know this. It's been a staple of stories since the ancient Mesopitamian epics such as Gilgamesh. It's this sort of nonsense that makes you appreciate the relative wit and intelligence of Fincher's Fight Club, which did at least have something original to say about society. Just when you think Eaton can't descend any further, he introduces what is described as the ultimate taboo. This turns out to be, gasp, an after-hours Russian Roulette club. It's as if The Deer Hunter never happened. Fortunately, the ending comes after 82 minutes and turns out to be a daft twist that you will be able to guess from the moment the film begins.

OK, let's be fair. This is a first film, so we can perhaps forgive the derivative plot and the trite characterisation. But it's the endless pretence of having something profound to say about society that eventually wore this tolerant viewer down. The leering exploitation of sex and violence is not especially surprising but it is insulting to be told by the film that we have to watch it at length in order to be disgusted by it, when the trailer makes it clear that it is the only selling point of the whole thing. The cast almost make it worth a look but prepare to keep your finger on the fast forward button if you take the brave step of putting it in your DVD player.

The Disc

Considering the deservedly limited appeal of this film, Metrodome have given it a pretty good DVD release. Nothing special you understand, but the technical quality is well above average.

The film is presented in an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer which is very impressive. It is crisp, clear and detailed. Although most of it takes place at night or in dimly lit interiors, there is little evidence of artifacting and there is no distracting grain. The colours are strong and vibrant and the contrast is excellent with deep true blacks.

There are two soundtracks on the disc. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is very good. Quite a lot of use of surrounds, largely for ambient sounds and the very loud dance music track. This track benefits from the sub-woofer as you would expect. Much of the dialogue is monophonic or in plain stereo, but it is clear. The 2.0 track sounds a bit muddy and unexceptional in comparison.

The only extras are the trailer, emphasising all the exploitative elements the film throws at us and informing us that this was an official selection for the 2000 Sundance Film Fesival, and a photo gallery in shades of black and yellow backed by the omnipresent soundtrack by the likes of Moby.

There are some nicely designed animated menus and 23 chapter stops. There are no subtitles.

I can't really recommend Shadow Hours. There are many better independent American films out there. This is just a notch up from all those "Erotic Thrillers" so beloved of Channel 5. The cast just about saves it from the dustbin, but it's a close run thing. The DVD is pretty good, but not good enough to make this worth buying.

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