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On Netflix: IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON (2019)

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IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON
(UK/US - 2019)

Directed by Jim Mickle. Written by Gregory Weidman and Geoffrey Tock. Cast: Boyd Holbrook, Cleopatra Coleman, Michael C. Hall, Bokeem Woodbine, Rudi Dharmalingam, Rachel Keller, Sarah Dugdale, Quincy Kirkwood, Philippa Domville, Tony Nappo, Al Maini, Julia Knope, Colton Royce. (Unrated, 115 mins)

After a trio of films that were well-received in indie horror scenester circles (2007's MULBERRY ST, 2011's STAKE LAND, and 2013's WE ARE WHAT WE ARE, a remake of a 2010 Spanish film), director Jim Mickle delivered an instant cult classic with 2014's East Texas noir COLD IN JULY, adapted from a Joe R. Lansdale novel. Following that, he devoted his energies to the three-season run of the Lansdale-based Amazon series HAP AND LEONARD. Now, Mickle--working for the first time from a script by others and not with writing partner Nick Damici, though Damici is one of the producers--returns to features for his most ambitious effort yet with the Netflix Original film IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON. Written by TV vets Gregory Weidman and Geoffrey Tock (both worked on the CBS series LIMITLESS and ZOO), the film has a doozy of a high concept involving a time-traveling serial killer hitting Philadelphia once every nine years beginning in 1988, on a fateful night that will forever affect the future of young patrolman Thomas "Locke" Lockhart (Boyd Holbrook). With a pregnant wife (Rachel Keller) due to give birth at any moment, Locke heads out for another night on the graveyard shift with his partner Maddox (Bokeem Woodbine) when the entire department ends up in a state of chaos over a string of identical deaths--a sort-of hemorrhage where the victims' brains seemingly melt out of their eyes, ears, nose, and mouth--simultaneously taking place miles apart across the entire city. The victims all have puncture wounds on the backs of their necks made by some kind of undetermined weapon, and witnesses mention a black female in a blue hoodie fleeing a club where the weapon was used on a young woman, who soon dies in the same manner while she's giving a statement to police.






After hitching themselves to the investigation against the wishes of Capt. Holt (Michael C. Hall, Mickle's COLD IN JULY star), who also happens to be Locke's brother-in-law, Locke and Maddox manage to catch up to the blue-hoodied killer, a young, shaven-headed woman named Rya (Cleopatra Coleman) after cornering her on a subway platform. Rya breaks Maddox's leg and gets into a violent scuffle with Locke, who injures her with her own strange weapon, causing her to stagger off the platform into the path of a speeding train, killing her instantly. Cut to 1997, Locke and Maddox are now detectives who made their names on the events of nine years ago, which has come to be known as the "Market Street Murders," though the department managed to get away with never divulging the identity of the killer and keeping many of the details secret. But on this day, his daughter's ninth birthday, a string of copycat killings take place, with Locke eventually coming face-to-face once more with Rya, who was splattered into pieces nine years ago but is somehow back to pick up where she left off with the killings.


To say anymore would involve significant spoilers, but this will pattern of Rya returning will repeat in 2006, 2015, and into 2024 over the course of the film, a time frame that finds Locke growing more obsessed and disheveled over time, at the expense of his job and his relationship with his daughter (played by Quincy Kirkwood at 9 and then Sarah Dugdale at 18 and older). The story is a wild mash-up of THE TERMINATOR, TIMECOP, DEJA VU, ZODIAC, LOOPER, and TRUE DETECTIVE among others, all wrapped into what plays like a feature-length episode of BLACK MIRROR with some incendiary present-day social commentary that's actually pretty ballsy in what it's trying to accomplish. But the more it goes on, the more muddled it becomes and the realization sets in that Mickle and the writers are simply trying to do too much in the timeframe they've been allotted. That's especially true in the deployment of about ten minutes worth of voiceover narration in lieu of a climax, which feels last a last-ditch Hail Mary because there's too many loose ends and no other way to resolve them while keeping it under two hours. It's still very much worth a watch, and the opening 35 minutes stands as a terrific extended suspense/chase set piece, but IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON is ultimately a film whose incredibly lofty thematic ambitions would've perhaps been better served as a two or maybe three-part Netflix limited series.



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