The paranormal is big business in the entertainment industry. Countless movies and television shows have been made centered on different ghost stories since the dawn of the motion picture. So many in fact that sometimes it seems nearly as difficult to differentiate one from another as it is to tell one pop star from another on the radio. With the abundance of movies that fill the paranormal/ghost story genre, one can only ask how one makes a movie that can both entertain and truly scare audiences at a time when audiences are becoming increasingly desensitized to horror and ghost stories. For the answer, just ask Writer/Director Matthew Arnold and co-writer Travis Rooks. The pair has crafted in the new movie, Shadow People a story that while it may not be a major theatrical release, it is an interesting presentation.
Shadow People is one part X-Files, one part The Ring, and one part Blair Witch Project, it tells the story of radio host Charlie Camfield (Dallas Roberts) and how he was pulled into a dark world (no pun intended) late one night on the air. Charlie was the host of a late night radio talk show that handled any number of subjects from its callers. But one night, a young seventeen year old caller turned his world upside down with a call about a paranormal experience that he was having. At first Charlie doesn’t believe the caller. But when the young man calls a second time, things take a turn that change Charlie forever, thus leading Charlie on an increasingly disturbing journey into a world in which most people don’t believe.
The disbelief of the general population about the world of the paranormal is openly highlighted in this movie. And it’s one part of what makes the movie worth at least one watch. Even Charlie himself tries to explain away what is going on at first. But as he delves deeper into the subject of the “Shadow People”, he sees that some things can’t be explained away scientifically. On the other end of the spectrum, those with whom he stood still stand their ground, increasingly looking down their noses at Charlie. It echoes the view that the general public has about the paranormal. Unless it has happened to them, then they don’t believe it and they consider believers to be some sort of “nut job.” It is this attempt at factual storytelling that will keep any horror movie fan watching throughout the course of the movie’s roughly hour and a half run time.
Speaking of the scientific side of things, Arnold and Rook also do a good job of exhibiting that side. As already noted, they do a good job of showing the attitudes of those who don’t believe less for scientific reasons than for general disbelief. Though, the explanation of sleep paralysis and the placebo effect are spot on from the scientific side of disbelievers, too. Sleep paralysis is typically known in scientific circles as a dream state of sorts. It is most commonly associated with the deepest level of REM sleep. The body’s muscles are so relaxed and weak at this point that the body can’t move. That combined with the brain’s functions lead to the belief that something is holding them down. Most commonly, it is believed that the force holding them down is an evil spirit. This is also explained through the movie.
The movie’s attempt at factual storytelling makes Shadow People a movie worth at least once watch. Also making it interesting is the inclusion of actual footage from the real life Charlie Camfield and those involved in the case which Charlie was studying. Also included is what is allegedly footage from the CDC explaining the scientific side of things. This supposedly real footage gives the movie something of a Blair Witch Project vibe about it, but far less cheesy. In its own way, the included footage reminds audiences that they are watching a movie. And in turn, that reminder actually helps establish suspension of disbelief, thus making the movie that much more bearable. Along with Arnold and Rook’s attempts at factual storytelling, it proves Shadow People to be a story that while it might not be a theatrical release, is still a good ghost story that stands more than a “shadow” of a chance of success. And yes, that pun was intended.
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