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The psychological thriller has ever-so-slowly been creeping its way into horror, nibbling bits off the genre to give itself some heavier themes, from the defining The Babadook to Ex Machina, twisted mind games mixed with moments of jarring fright have steadily been a clever and compelling combination. Now comes Awaken the Shadowman, which by the title and marketing appears to be more terrifying than thinking, but it’s really quite the opposite in a film that savors its slow burn, building a mystery that has plenty of compelling ideas even if it can’t quite make them all work.
Adam (James Zimbardi) is a young, altruistic man, happily married to Beth (Emily Somers). They have a new baby and while things are tight, they make plans to share some time together. That’s when Adam gets a call from Jake (Skyler Caleb), his brother, who offers the bad news that their mother (Jean Smart) has gone missing. He asks Adam to come home – with his family – and help with the search. Once there though, back in the hometown he ran from years earlier after a terrible incident and some animosity chased him away, he is met with oddly open arms. Now he must revisit his past, but that is only half the problem as soon enough, he discovers something very dark is living in the house and the reasons for why his mother disappeared may not entirely be of this earth.
Directed by J.S. Wilson and written by Caleb, Awaken the Shadowman is an often creepy little thriller, and while its budget limits what it has ambition for, there are some good ideas here. Like last year’s superior The Invitation, it centers on a mysterious cult-like organization that promises a better life, though Awaken the Shadowman reaches for a more supernatural angle, and if you’ve pieced together the bit about Adam’s baby, you can already guess about what. It pits the brothers against each other but in ways that are not entirely clear at first. It’s all nothing new and Wilson is happy to pile on the clichés in order to pound out the most effective tried and true results, even as a few good moments capitalize on the premise.
Forgiving some weak performances throughout, Awaken the Shadowman does have some decent scares, even if there is a lot of reliance on the standards. These are far and few between though and the better parts are the mystery as evidence begins to mount that their mother’s new “friends” are a bad brew. Wilson does a good job threading the story and while the film is weighted down by contrivances and a needless score that overly-punctuates everything, there’s no denying an engaging idea that keeps it interesting.
Awaken the Shadowman is brief and yet still feels a bit padded. There are issues with some of the dialogue and pacing as well. While the story itself borrows from others, and a few subplots are not quite fleshed out enough, there’s enough here to make this a decent watch. Wilson shows great promise in his debut, putting together several well-directed moments and for genre fans especially, this might offer some fun.
Movie description: Awaken the Shadowman is a 2017 horror film about estranged brothers who reunite after the mysterious disappearance of their mother, only to discover an unknown supernatural force.
Director(s): J.S. Wilson
Actor(s): James Zimbardi, Skyler Caleb, Jean Smart