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By Fred Beldin | December 20, 2004

Matthew has been haunted by strange, flickering shadows in the corner of his awareness ever since he was a boy. For years he has kept this a secret, but one day the mysterious shadows are accompanied by horrible visions of vicious murders that terrify him with their vividness. Matthew turns to his sister, confiding in her about this lifelong trauma and its recent intensity, but she only asks him to seek professional help. Soon it becomes clear to him that the killings he envisions are identical to a rash of unsolved murders that have shaken his community. Are the shadows Matthew sees committing these crimes and taunting him with the gory details? Or will he be forced to face an even more horrible truth?

Perhaps writer and director Jarrod Ketchem has seen too many M. Night Shyamalan films. This short-form terror tale is built upon a twist ending so flimsy that there isn’t much suspense built along the way, and “Shadows” lacks the energy to compel the audience to play along. As the troubled lead, Micah Shane Ballinger appears appropriately stunned throughout, as if someone hit him in the face with a bag of oranges. Unfortunately, his interplay with the rest of the amateur cast is too labored to feel spontaneous and a concluding fight scene is a bit over-rehearsed.

Where Ketchem gets it right is in the fleeting murder scenes, cheaply but effectively distorted in monochromatic waves that nicely mimic a sudden, unpleasant headrush. He has a good eye for locations, too, placing his subjects in the kind of rural setting not often seen on screens of any size and shooting in rooms that are at once commonplace and sinister. What Ketchem needs is a way to funnel that familiarity into his films and tap into the unique dread at the heart of small town America, rather than telling us stories we already know the punchline to.

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