In the Shadow of the Moon review: Netflix's serial killer mystery proves it's not always sunny in Philadelphia
This week, Netflix adds another mostly forgettable addition to its sci-fi canon — In the Shadow of the Moon.
castBoyd Holbrook, Cleopatra Coleman, Bokeem Woodbine, Rudi Dharmalingam, Rachel Keller, Michael C Hall
It is clear Netflix is committed to pleasing us sci-fi fans but sadly, their original offerings have mostly been a binge-or-cringe affair. For every Dark, there is an Altered Carbon. For every Annihilation, there is a Cloverfield Paradox. And for every San Junipero, there is a Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too.
This week, Netflix adds another mostly forgettable addition to its sci-fi canon — In the Shadow of the Moon. With films like Stake Land (2010), We Are What We Are (2013) and Cold in July (2014) in his kitty, Jim Mickle had a pretty good track record until now. It's a pity because his new film has some solid ideas going for it before it somehow seems to lose its battle to a possible Netflix algorithm.
Its combination of buddy cop drama, serial killer whodunit, and time travel thriller does seem like the result of a mix-and-matching algorithm but it is still creatively offbeat enough to keep you interested through its first two acts.
The film begins in Philadelphia 1988, where Thomas “Lock” Lockhart (Boyd Holbrook) and his partner, Maddox (Bokeem Woodbine), are investigating a series of murders with the victims carrying odd puncture wounds. Their trail eventually leads them to the killer (Cleopatra Coleman), whom Lock accidentally kills after she resists arrest. Fast-forward nine years to 1997, she mysteriously resurfaces and begins killing a new bunch of seemingly unrelated victims. The process repeats every nine years and Lock becomes obsessed with finding the answers to the mystery but his obsession exacts a considerable personal toll each time.
The setup is pretty intriguing but it gets completely sidetracked with its tacked-on time travel plotline and its need to offer socio-political commentary. So, what we end up with is a pretty convoluted tale that thinks it's saying something original and important, but in fact, is all rather trite, sentimental and forced.
The film keep going forward in time, dragging its actors from one outrageous scene to another. Holbrook and Woodbine share a palpable odd couple chemistry, which adds much-needed levity to the film's darker story. But Holbrook's transformation from an ambitious cop to a homeless guy living out of his car is laughably abrupt. Michael C Hall's role as Lock's brother-in-law, Captain Holt, feels criminally underwritten. But he has none of the gravitas of his namesake from Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It's not really fair to blame the actors as their performances only reflect the quality of the script. You wish the creativity that went into devising the premise extended to the script-writing stage.
You can't have a time travel movie without nonsensical scientific jargon being thrown around. That responsbility falls under the shoulder of the film's token brown guy — Naveen Rao (Rudi Dharmalingam), who figures out the key to time travel has something to do with "blood moon" and "lunar perigree." Sorry, those are the only two words I could make out. It almost feels like they wanted the time travel to somehow revolve around the moon because they believed they had a cool movie title.
In the Shadow of the Moon is probably the kind of movie that might have appealed to us in our wide-eyed teen years. But a few thousand films later, it is hard not to get distracted by its faults. But you will mention it in a conversation about dopey sci-fi films you revisited and go: "Hmm. I honestly remember it being a lot better than it actually is."
In the Shadow of the Moon was screened at Fantastic Fest, America's largest genre film festival. It will be available for streaming from 27 October on Netflix.
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