Beth Dewey’s Shadowlands is an eight-part original web series, and I am only reviewing the first episode. It has the makings of an exciting series as Dewey draws inspiration from the events and inhabitants of Barker Ranch (infamously associated with the Manson Family). It falls short through in a few areas.
Shadowlands is a low-budget thriller, and it’s noticeable. A story like this is a huge undertaking and very difficult to do without a lot of money—good attempt, but problematic. When creating a series, character development is vitally important. The story’s emotional lead is Zach, and while performed competently by James Preston, we need a stronger connection to his character. Telling us he’s adopted with abandonment issues is not enough. We need to find sympathy with him, which means building a more in-depth back story, we want to invest in him emotionally and his predicament, so when bad things happen, we care. The same is true for the rest of the cast, but less so.
“…a huge undertaking and very difficult to do without a lot of money…”
There are story issues and plot holes, as well. Consider the moment when Zach is at a diner with Roberta and Elliott, and they’re eating and talking about plot stuff. While enjoying their meal, their friends are still being hunted by a killer. Speaking of being hunted, the editing of the action scenes is rough, and jumps in action don’t make much sense. A lot of planning goes into how action is staged and shot, which is why storyboards are so useful in managing the flow of action. Lastly, there’s a first-person POV of the hunter that’s really cheesy and my pet-peeve when it comes to accurately presenting ultra-right or left political talk shows in film, but I won’t harp on it now.
If you can get past its imperfections, the story of Shadowlands is an interesting one to tell. Based on Barker Ranch, Dewey cleverly makes a few name changes to modernize the Manson-inspired story. It ends on an excellent cliffhanger to carry us into the next episode. I’d be willing to give Shadowlands a few more episodes to see how it develops, but it needs to improve drastically.
"…draws inspiration from...Barker Ranch (infamously associated with the Manson Family)."