Terrifying and Artistic
While watching children and the supernatural interact on film, I get a serious case of the willies. The Shadow Within is no exception. In fact, this dark supernatural thriller ranks right up there with Sixth Sense and The Others in my book. It didn’t take me long to fear for nine-year-old Maurice Dumont. As played by Laurence Belcher, this youngster comes across as an enigmatic and lonely boy faced with extreme pressure from adults to use his ability to connect with the dead by acting as a medium for them.
Why is Maurice able to communicate with those who have passed over? Because his twin brother Jacques died at birth -- and there seems to be a special connection between twins. As pointed out in Solstice, another movie about one twin left alive after the other one dies, this phenomenon is called “Marasa.” In certain cases, twins are considered to have magical powers that extend into the afterlife. While exploring this particular belief, The Shadow Within offers us a terrifying yet artistic cinematic experience.
Maurice’s mother Marie (Hayley J Williams) is still grieving over the death of Jacques when she finally gives in to the wishes of Madame Armand (Bonny Ambrose), a determined woman who has pestered her to force Maurice’s participation in séances designed to contact dead children from the village. But it’s Jacques’ plans that worry us the most, for he works through Maurice to accomplish an entirely different agenda. Will Jacques succeed? If so, what will happen to Maurice and Marie as well as to the other séance group members?
A strong cast helps us suspend disbelief as this eerie story (from a screenplay by Daniel Aarons, Giovanni Echer and Silvana Zancolo) plays out. Belcher (Messengers 2: The Scarecrow) earns our sympathy right away. He’s such a darling little guy, so we can’t help wanting him to be safe. Williams (who earned a B-Movie Festival Best Supporting Actress Award for her fine work in this film) effectively projects the mother’s worry and grief. Beth Winslet (Christmas Carol: The Movie) and Rod Hallett (TV’s The Tudors) deliver excellent performances as a married couple trying to help Maurice. And Ambrose’s creepy Madame Armand reminds me of Gale Sondergaard (Sherlock Holmes and the Spider Woman), a splendid character actress from days of yore.
Director Silvana Zancolo (Manga) and cinematographer Pier Luigi Santi (A Deadly Compromise) wisely concentrate on the film’s atmospheric possibilities. They draw us in with little things like an empty swing swaying mysteriously in Maurice’s yard, bleak shots of snow on the ground, and bizarre children’s drawings. Haunting background music by Paulo Marzocchi (Just Like the Movies) adds to the chilling feel of the movie.
While The Shadow Within contains a few over-the-top scenes and a rather predictable ending, it held my interest throughout. If you enjoy supernatural thrillers, this 2007 Salerno Film Festival “Best Film” winner should be on your must-see list.
(Released by MTI Home Video and rated “R” for some violent content and nudity. )