The Horror Zine Review
In the Shadow
A Film by Nicole Elmer
Director: Nicole Elmer
In the Shadow
A film by Nicole Elmer
Review by C. Dennis Moore
For me, it’s movies like IN THE SHADOW that make reviewing worthwhile. Not only do people give you free stuff, gladly, sometimes it turns out to be something you’re happy to receive. Over the years I’ve received lots of free books and movies, and they’re not always worth the time it took to read or watch them, and my only joy is then in listing everything that was wrong with it. In fact, sometimes those are my favorite reviews to write because for some reason it’s much easier to rip apart a really bad book or movie than it is to explain why something was so good. IN THE SHADOW is one of the good ones. But at least this time I know why.
The story revolves around Hilary (Michelle Keffer) and Diego (Jorge Sermini, who also co-wrote). Hilary is visiting a small Puerto Rican island as part of her job as a documentary filmmaker. Diego is the man she meets upon arrival, who helps her find a room to rent during her stay, and who works in the restaurant nearby.
Eventually Hilary hires Diego to help haul her gear around and hold the boom mic while she interviews the locals for her film. I was never quite sure just what was the subject of her documentary, but I sort of got the feeling the subject wasn’t quite as important to Hilary as was the fact she was far from home, which is where she definitely did not want to be.
Hilary tries to get Diego to open up to her, but Diego has been living a very guarded and stressful life. His wife left him a few years earlier, taking their daughter with her. Since then Diego has been dealing with recurring visions of a black, shadowy figure that haunts his sleeping AND waking hours. The visions are brought on by the use of Diego’s supernatural healing abilities, which he tries to use as little as possible, but in a community this small, where everyone knows everyone and the resources are few, he feels obligated to help where and when he can, even though the consequences are really starting to take their toll on him.
One night, Hilary sees Diego get into the back of a van where a dead woman lies. A few minutes later, he gets out and the woman has been brought back to life. Diego tells her to destroy the tape (she’s a filmmaker, of course she recorded it) and, in hopes it will convince him she can be trusted, and that he can open up to her, she agrees.
Back home, Hilary’s estranged husband keeps calling her, trying to pressure her into signing the divorce papers. To get back at him, Hilary decides she’s going to sleep with Diego. Not only sleep with him, she’s going to tell her husband afterward. But things don’t necessarily work the way she had planned, as they seldom do, and soon Hilary finds herself feeling even more disconnected from the things that matter than she ever has before.
Add to all of this Diego’s increasingly odd behavior under the weight of his visions, and things for Hilary have probably never seemed darker.
IN THE SHADOW is an obvious labor of love. Writer/director Nicole Elmer has infused every exchange, every scene with so much care and attention to detail and pacing, atmosphere and mood that the movie’s 98-minute run time seems to fly by as you find yourself lost within the narrative she’s unfolding in front of us.
Keffer and Sermini are excellent in their roles. Keffer plays to perfection the part of the woman so desperate to ignore everything that’s wrong in her own life she forces all of that unused attention to the outside world, learning as much about it as she can through her movies. Meanwhile, Sermini’s Diego is obviously very caring and upright in his community, a real stand-up guy, but the demons he battles keep him from truly being able to live his life. It was the visions that caused his wife to leave him in the first place.
The locations are beautiful and scenic without feeling over-glamorized, while the music of the area adds another level of depth and feeling to the story. There are lots of bright sunny days and clear, breezy nights. The location looks like the perfect beach getaway, a small community with not a lot of tourists, and just enough locals to populate a scene but the place never feels crowded. It looks like a place you could gladly spend the rest of your days in, just so long as you don’t have to get up and go to work every day.
The editing is another plus, as the cuts are used as yet another storytelling element. In fact, the only negative I can find about the movie is in wondering how exactly does it qualify as a “horror” movie?
Sure, there are horrific elements and some terrible situations, not to mention the supernatural aspect of Diego’s abilities, but at the end of the day, this is a story about the people, Hilary and Diego, and how they’re both learning to deal with some pretty unfortunate facts of their lives.
For all its ghostly aspects, the real tension of this story is derived from the characters and their reactions to these situations. These are two people who don’t ask a lot out of life, they just want to keep their heads down, do their jobs, and make it through one more day despite a lot of outside disruptions. In Hilary’s case, that disruption is her husband, as well as years of emotional baggage she’s been fighting to deny.
For Diego, that disruption is Hilary. One would think it would be his visions, but this is a man who has been trying to come to terms with his demons, and isn’t doing too bad a job until this woman shows up and tries to make him face them. IN THE SHADOW is less a horror movie and more a character study with some sinister bits thrown in for flavor.
Still, in whatever category you’re apt to find this movie, I’m just glad I got a chance to see it. It was definitely worth my time.
See the movie HERE
About the Filmmaker
Nicole Elmer studied acting and film production at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University and The University of Texas at Austin where she received her degree in Radio, TV, and Film. Nicole began her artistic career in the 1990s as a solo-electronic musician, writing under the names of “neutral” and “squab teen.” Her music has been released on underground labels such as Mad Monkey and Ant Zen/Hymen in the U.S., Europe, and Japan. Her music interests led her to expand her visions into producing, directing, and writing several short films and music videos: Killing Ground Hogs, Fire, Wish, and A Music Room, which have appeared in various film festivals such as SXSW and Austin Museum of Digital Art.
You can see her website HERE
About the Reviewer
C. Dennis Moore
C. Dennis Moore is the author of over 60 published short stories and novellas in the speculative fiction genre. Most recent appearances were in the Vile Things anthology, Fiction365.com, Dark Highlands 2, What Fears Become, Dead Bait 3 and Dark Highways. His novel, Revelations, is available in hardcover, trade paperback or ebook formats from Necro Publications. His most recent novel is The Third Floor.