Adam Sherman has had quite the eclectic filmmaking career. He produced Goran Dukic’s odd “almost-cult-classic” dramedy Wristcutters: A Love Story. He wrote and directed two consecutive low-key dramedies, Happiness Runs, and Crazy Eyes. He attempted to resurrect controversial director Larry Clark’s career by producing the oversexed-but-limp Marfa Girl, and its even more flaccid sequel, Marfa Girl 2. A year after the latter’s fiasco, Sherman returns with a vengeance, producing, writing and directing the highly stylized, self-described “gangster fairytale” She’s Just a Shadow. Soaked in blood (among other bodily fluids), cloaked in a pseudo-hallucinatory atmosphere, the feature could have marked an intriguing change of pace for the filmmaker, if it weren’t so absolutely abhorrent.
Warning: the following descriptions may be too graphic for sensitive types, but keep in mind that I’m just describing the film’s relentless assault on the senses. It all starts with a sleazy cop dragging a naked girl out of his trunk, violently tying her up on train tracks, and ejaculating on her seconds before she becomes mincemeat. This is followed by a swarm of nude prostitutes (don’t ask), and a murky bar fight splattered in gore, arterial blood spraying into a character’s wide-open mouth, as he gargles in ecstasy. All that shit – and the credits haven’t even rolled yet.
“Multiple paths converge when the killer, known as The Ripper, starts following Irene, then takes one of her girls for a “ride” on the train tracks…”
“It was kind of confusing how I wound up taking over the black market and sex trade of the whole city,” the somnambulant Irene (Tao Okamoto) narrates, echoing the film’s overall slumbering vibe of bewilderment. She’s a notorious Japanese madam, you see, who controls the city with her orgiastic den of sex-crazed ladies. In the meantime, party boy mobster Gaven (Kihiro) spends his days and nights in a drug-induced haze, surrounded by scantily-clad (if clad at all) ladies, until he expresses an interest in escaping with one he deems his girlfriend. Multiple paths converge when the killer, known as The Ripper, starts following Irene, then takes one of her girls for a “ride” on the train tracks. There are also murky sub-plots involving a love triangle and a “vicious gang war,” as well as characters named Red Hot (Kentez Asaka, struggling terribly with the accent) and Knockout (Marcus Johnson, sporting crimson-red hair). None of this makes a goddamn lick of sense.
And there’s no need even to attempt to untangle this needlessly convoluted semblance of a narrative. She’s Just a Shadow lurches from one confusing, gruesome, poorly-edited and exploitative sequence to the next with reckless abandon. A character vomits all over himself in the shower; Knockout beats a disabled boy – and his dog (the horror!) – to death; Gaven licks ice-cream of his “girlfriend”’s face (yuck!), and The Ripper keeps jerking off on his doomed victims. If this sounds grisly and in bad taste, it sure as hell is, cheapened further by the “dreamy,” “overdosed Terry Gilliam” visuals and – last but far from least – the incredibly misogynistic streak permeating the narrative.
It’s bad enough that every female character in the film gives “cardboard” a bad name: naked women are constantly and brutally smacked (with a laptop at one point!), raped, harassed, ejaculated on and used as ploys to propel the shoddy excuse for a plot forward. Nary a scene goes by without doll-like, fetishized girls licking something off someone’s something, with little reasoning or context. In contrast, the men are uniformly sadistic, shallow megalomaniacs. I don’t know what’s more offensive: the blatant bigotry on display, or how repetitive and boring it all quickly becomes.
“…a notorious Japanese madam… who controls the city with her orgiastic den of sex-crazed ladies.”
In case you’re not convinced, here’s a sample of a dialogue exchange from the film: “They’re Korean prostitutes,” a character observes. “But they’re still girls, with feelings,” says his friend. “Yeah.. kinda…” our hero reluctantly admits. A few other juicy snippets: “That girl was pretty crazy looking. Just like a plastic, sexy freak show!”; “Someone’s about to get some cash and chlamydia”; “I’m going to fuck her so hard. I’m going to keep her in my basement for so long…”; “Bring your ass girl. Bring your titties too”; “You’re gonna die a faggot!”; “Your sweat smells like running liquor, and kissing you is like doing a line of coke”; and my personal favorite: “Women… no matter how human they seem, they’re not.”
Deeply lacking, say, Takashii Miike’s or Quentin Tarantino’s tongue-in-cheek humor – not to mention a slew of other skills those formidable filmmakers possess – Sherman piles on the gratuitous gore, nudity, drug consumption and reprehensible attitude towards women for the sake of it. Nihilistic and offensive, it leaves you with more than a sour taste – nausea, perhaps, or a need to bathe in Listerine. “God,” a character proclaims upon witnessing a gruesome murder scene, “it’s the stupidest fucking thing I’ve seen in my life.” She echoes my sentiments about She’s Just a Shadow perfectly.
She’s Just a Shadow (2019) Written and Directed by Adam Sherman. Starring Tao Okamoto, Haruka Abe, Kihiro, Kentez Osaka, Mercedes Maxwell, Marcus Johnson, Haruna Ayane, Mickey Curtis.
2 out of 10