Friday, 13 March 2020

Movie review: In the Shadow of the Moon, dir Jim Mickle (2019)

Mixing speculative elements with a police procedural is not unusual since the 90s when ‘The X-Files’ (1993-2002) became popular. In the case of ‘In the Shadow of the Moon’, which stars Boyd Holbrook as a Philadelphia cop named Thomas Lockhart (“Locke”), the puzzle starts when a bus carrying passengers down a city street goes haywire and crashes into other vehicles. The driver is dead from a kind of brain haemorrhage and she has three puncture wounds at the back of her neck. Then, strangely, three other residents of the city die in the same way, blood coming out of their cranial orifices and their brains dissolving.

In the investigation, Locke and his partner Maddox (Bokeem Woodbine) are outranked by Locke’s brother-in-law, Detective Holt (Michael C. Hall), and the case is closed without further enquiry when the killer, an elusive young black woman (Cleopatra Coleman) who was clearly responsible for the murders, is killed.

All of this is set in 1988. We then cut to 1997 when Locke is a detective and the same kinds of murders happen again. As he is trying to solve the cases, a scientist (Rudi Dharmalingam) tries to convince Locke and Maddox that of his theory about the murders – they only happen at the time of a “super moon” – but they dismiss him. When Locke starts to voice ideas that mirror Rao’s he is ridiculed. Cut to 2006. Locke’s daughter, Amy (Sarah Dugdale), is grown up and estranged from her dad.

It’s hard to talk about this movie without giving away too much, so don’t read the “plot” section of the Wikipedia page unless you want to spoil the fun. Regardless of the fact that ‘In the Shadow of the Moon’ didn’t do well critically, I loved it: it has everything that you expect in a sci-fi movie with the exception (something I was grateful for) of excessive quantities of techno-speak. Coleman is an Australian, moreover, and I expect we’ll see more of her in the future.

As for themes, the movie is very much a child of a time (the era post-2016) when polarisation in the community has become so strong and (due to social media) so evident. If you see it in the light of concerns about today’s cancel culture, the film can be understood as responding to a new reality and is, therefore, knowing and interesting.

You might also see a parallel in the way China’s Communist Party controls daily communication in an effort to curtail precisely the kind of small, agile, and radical group that lies at the centre of the plot in this movie. The film also does a good job of pointing out the radical nature of the ideas behind the United States, ideas that continue, to this day, to inspire and motivate people around the world, even as they are turned to be used to accuse its leaders of various weaknesses.

They are hard ideals to live up to, it seems. And a primary plot device used in the movie is itself emblematic of America’s experimental bias. Because of where they come from Americans seem to believe that anything can be changed, even the structure of the universe. They continue to pioneer in a great number of ways even as their country becomes more and more influential, a state of things that risks its ability to live up to its originary ideals, ideals embodied by the lives and ideas of the founding fathers.

I cannot understand why other people didn’t like this movie. Holbrook does a good job playing a man who is intent on his mission, which is hard to do with credibility; a lesser actor might appear ridiculous. The acting and the writing are excellent and the casting is good. 

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