A woman, wearing only underwear, wakes in a cell of an abandoned prison or
mental institution. She wanders through the halls, hears terrifying noises,
and finds a man in the same situation in a nearby cell. As the two exchange
information, they determine that they have no memories, not even of their own
identities. They continue to hear the noises, and look for a way out of the
facility. Eventually they meet six other strangers in the same situation: all
in their underwear, all stripped of their memories, all running from something
terrifying which seems to be nothing more than a shadow.
I guessed wrong on this one. Given the presence of the shadow creature and
the great variety of different personality types among the mind-washed people,
I thought that they were probably humans being thrown together for a
psychological experiment by an extraterrestrial race, much as we would use
mice. Without memories, would they revert to their normal roles within the
group? Would the leaders still lead, and the violent remain brutal? Would the
most cowardly before the mind-washing continue to be the most terrified by
frightening stimuli? I'm afraid I was off on a tangent, writing my own movie,
because none of that had anything to do with the real explanation.
As for the real film, it has its failings.
The first is that there is a very hefty level required in the "suspension
of disbelief" department. The film is best when the details are sketchy
and the audience curiosity level is high. Once the script starts providing explanations, the
details just don't make a lot of sense. That spoils much of the fun, because
those who love mysteries try to deduce the solution before it is revealed, as
I did in the second paragraph, but it's not possible to predict an explanation
that relies on the possibility of the impossible. I was willing to suspend
disbelief on the brainwashing explanation, but not on some other details, like
the origin of the creature.
Problem two was that the shadow creature was only scary when it remained a
suggestion. It should have stayed there, as a terrifying suggestion of bestial
growls and flickering shadows, but it didn't. The creature apparently
told Mr. DeMille that it was ready for its close-up, so the film's cheap-jack
CGI transformed what had been scary at the beginning into something ludicrous at the end.
The third major problem with the film was that the scriptwriter couldn't
come up with a resolution that was as interesting as the puzzle itself, but
then again, that's kind of the nature of sci-fi/horror in general, isn't it?
If a sci-fi/horror premise has nothing to tell us about the nature of society, then
it's only a matter of whether there will be survivors and, if so, who and how.
Since it lacked any strong metaphorical subtext, Shadow Puppets lost its cred toward the end. Between the lame
ending and the lame monster, there were some laughably cheesy moments, thus
spoiling what had been a consistently and effectively dark tone in the film's
This movie does work on some levels. The aura of mystery and intrigue
drives us forward with curiosity, the mysterious creature provides plenty of
terror for individual moments in the early going, and the cast generally does
a solid job, especially the ever-intimidating Tony "Candyman" Todd.
To the extent that the film is fairly light on monsters and gore and
torture porn and fairly heavy on psychological terror, I applaud its attempt
at cerebral horror in the mode of Serling or Hitchcock, even if it could use a
more plausible explanation, some better effects, and a more satisfying ending.
Yes, the film falls apart at the end, but it is effective as long as it can
maintain the viewer's sense of curiosity about the mysterious situation and
the nature of the creature. That means it works about 50 minutes longer than
most modern horror films, and that ain't so bad!