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Time to kill – ‘In the Shadow of the Moon’

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Time travel is tricky.

It’s easy to understand why a filmmaker – especially a filmmaker on a budget – would be interested in the possibilities offered by time travel. It’s a conceit that allows plenty of room for speculative spread without necessarily requiring one to shell out a ton of cash for effects work.

However, one must also be prepared to deal with the narrative ramifications of using something like time travel. You can’t just point the camera and say “time travel” – there has to be some sense of cohesion. Without a delicate touch, the whole thing is in danger of dissolving into incoherence.

Some time travel movies – the best ones – strike a balance; the filmmaker is able to embrace the advantages offered by the concept while also avoiding the many pitfalls. The vast majority fall short of that ideal.

“In the Shadow of the Moon” is one of the many, rather than the few. Rather than building a time travel narrative that builds upon itself, it instead collapses under its own weight. Its intriguing initial idea is unable to sustain itself, crumbling into paradox. The logistical issues are either ignored or hand-waved away, rendering the central mystery an uninteresting afterthought.

In the year 1988, Thomas Lockhart (Boyd Holbrook, “The Predator”) is an ambitious Philadelphia police officer, looking to make detective. His loving wife Jean (Rachel Keller, TV’s “Legion”) is expecting their first child. He’s got a good relationship with his partner Maddox (Bokeem Woodbine, “Overlord”); his brother-in-law Holt (Michael C. Hall, “Game Night”) is a lieutenant who is both exasperated by and tolerant of his desire to make detective.

When a number of seemingly unconnected people around the city die in the same gruesome fashion, bleeding out of their eyes, ears and noses as their brains literally dissolve, Lockhart is the first one to spot a potential connection. There’s a suspect – a mysterious woman wearing a hoodie (Cleopatra Coleman, “Hover”) – but when Lockhart corners her, she accidentally falls into the path of an oncoming train and is killed. Not before she offers a few cryptic words that indicate that she knows Lockhart. At the same time, Jean dies in childbirth.

Nine years later, Lockhart has made his way up the ranks and is a Philadelphia detective. He’s a single dad to Amy (Quincy Kirkwood in her feature debut) and a decorated officer. This despite the ongoing controversy about the 1988 case. Amidst protests marking the anniversary of the mystery suspect’s death, a copycat killer springs up, murdering victims in the same inexplicable fashion. He has a passing encounter with a man named Naveen Rao (Rudi Dharmalingam, TV’s “The Split”), who claims his research proves time travel possibilities connected to a nine-year moon cycle. Lockhart follows a lead to an airfield, where he discovers the mystery woman, alive and well … and unaged.

We leap again, to the year 2006. Lockhart’s life has crumbled as his obsession with the case and its inexplicable details consumes him. His now-grown daughter (Sarah Dugdale, “Phil”) lives with Holt. His whole world revolves around the next appearance of the killer – an appearance he now knows to be forthcoming, even if no one believes him. He starts to make connections with regards to the victims – connections some people don’t want him to make.

So what will happen in 2015, the next time she arrives? Or 2024? Who is she? Why is this happening? And why is Thomas Lockhart at its epicenter?

“In the Shadow of the Moon” starts strong, with a solid crime thriller vibe. The injection of the speculative elements into the proceedings is done with a relatively light touch. But there are vital elements of the plot that simply don’t hold up under the weight of the narrative as it moves forward and/or backward. There are too many spots where the pieces are ill-fitting. Closer inspection reveals the seams, structural flaws that can’t be unseen. There’s a twist or two, because of course, but they don’t really feel earned. Again, if you think about any of it, it all unravels fairly quickly.

In some ways, the aesthetic is interesting. Director Jim Mickle makes some bold stylistic choices, matching the film’s look with each era in which it plays out. It doesn’t always work, but even when it falls flat, it’s an admirable effort. On the other hand, there are some effects moments that feel dated in a not-fun way, as if they were pulled from a decade-old movie.

(It’s worth noting that this movie likely doesn’t exist without the efforts of Netflix. These sorts of mid-budget films don’t have the same sort of presence that they used to; Netflix gives a project like this a chance to exist. On the whole, it’s a good thing.)

Performance-wise … people are trying. Holbrook’s journey through the decades is mostly a sartorial one; his hairstyle moves along the “deranged loner” spectrum – as does his demeanor – but he reads as exactly the same age throughout. Ditto Hall, whose Philadelphian cop inexplicably has a Southern accent (except when he doesn’t; it’s in and out). Dugdale and Woodbine are fine, though the story renders them mostly non-entities. Coleman has obvious charisma; there’s an interesting energy to her performance. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t allow her to do much with those gifts. She’s more plot device than anything else.

“In the Shadow of the Moon” is a fundamentally flawed film, one that fails to truly reconcile itself with the complexities of its premise. Muddy and inconsistent, it’s a movie that misses the mark. Maybe someone could travel back from the future and fix this mess … or prevent it from ever happening in the first place.

[2 out of 5]

Last modified on Tuesday, 01 October 2019 12:00

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