Netflix & # 39; s In the Shadow of the Moon, smart tricks play with time

Welcome to Cheat Sheet, our breakdown-like reviews of festival films, VR previews and other special events. This review is from the Fantastic Fest 2019 in Austin, Texas.


One of the greatest pleasures of the time travel subgenre is strictly mechanical: it is all about the ways in which non-linear characters allow creators to deconstruct a standard story and bring different parts of the story together in unexpected ways. Construction-oriented films such as Timecrimes or predestination confuse the order of the pieces on the screen, entice your audience to guess why certain things happen, and then slowly place those pieces into a surprising whole.

But the same can be done in movies without time travel such as keepsake, where the public receives the story just out of use. A more specific and unique joy of time travel stories is the way they can tackle one of the most important bugaboos of humanity: the way once made choices cannot be made. Part of the reason science fiction writers have been obsessed with time travel for so long is because it makes people fantasize that they can restore the past with a perfect look afterwards, take back choices and make new ones – hopefully better, but often fun, bad guys. There are variations on the genre, but more often than not, time travel stories embrace the fantasy of the do-over, the undo key in life.

The new thriller from Netflix In the shadow of the moon touches both buttons: it is constructed as a puzzle for viewers to unlock (although, like many mysteries, it cheats by leaving out some important clues), and it plays with the fantasy of being able to repair the past and finish the present To turn. It does both things a bit awkwardly, but for fans who already enjoy how the genre works and feel more challenged than feeling frustrated by the prospect of waiting for a story to fall into place, it provides a sense of space that most of the time travel stories don't.


Science fiction. The technology that makes the opening crime of the film possible is not immediately clear, but it is almost immediately clear that it is impossible according to current standards. It is the kind of film where the audience is far ahead of the protagonists, simply because they recognize the trope and do not invest in denying time travel as an option. It's like a zombie movie where the main characters always say, "But zombies aren't real!", Regardless of the number of walking, moaning, rotting carcasses that they are confronted with.


In 1988, Philadelphia defeated police officer Tommy Lockhart (Boyd Holbrook) on a transition point in life: his wife is heavily pregnant and he is pretty sure that he is about to be promoted to detective. The upcoming arrival of his daughter, however, frightens him, because as long as he is stuck in night shifts, he is not in sync with his wife Jeanie (Rachel Keller). So when people start falling dead under strange circumstances, he pushes himself further into the investigation than justifies his rank, hoping to prove his detective skills. That pushiness annoys his more relaxed partner, Winston Maddox (Bokeem Woodbine), and his boss and brother-in-law, Detective Holt (Michael C. Hall).

But Tommy & # 39; s aggressive lunge for engagement prepares him for a close encounter with the murderer, who reveals things she shouldn't know about him. It also encourages him to investigate when exactly nine years later people start dying under identical circumstances. By that time he is a detective, Holt is a lieutenant of the police and life is different for everyone. Nine years later it is still radically different, and at that point Tommy has deduced the pattern behind the murders, although no one believes his anger about time travel.

Image: Netflix



It is more or less about the "Would you go back in time and kill baby Hitler?" Ethical riddle. If this was a less pulpy film that was more devoted to exploring the ideas it presents, it could cause an important conversation about the balance of one human life against thousands and the ethics of taking lives to save them. But In the shadow of the moon treats that question as easy to answer and not worth discovering. Get rid of baby Hitler & # 39; s head!


It has its strengths. The biggest is the way the audience can see the shape of what's coming, but not the details. The opening photo of the film of a destroyed office building, uncontrolled fires, widespread damage and a seemingly deserted center in 2024 Philadelphia gives the entire film a palpable pressure. Tommy has a deadline and a limited number of jumps of nine years before a disaster occurs, but he is not aware that he is struggling towards a grim future. It is a neat storytelling that is meant to sharpen the audience while they are counting down the years of disaster.

But the other deadline is even more compelling: as the film progresses, Tommy becomes visibly older and disintegrates under the pressure of a threat that other people continue to reject. Every nine-year gap gives the Philadelphia police the chance to forget the previous wave of deaths and move on, and Tommy looks like a psychopath because he has held on to his conspiracy theories for so long.

It is clear early on that the story will check in at Tommy every nine years until he finally solves the mystery or tries to die. And then the filmmakers benefit from every advantage of that arrangement. Tommy's life is not going the way he had planned, and one of the movie's better ideas is the way director Jim Mickle (We are who we are) and writers Gregory Weidman and Geoffrey Tock made the audience fill the gaps between the segments themselves and draw their own conclusions about the tragedies of Tommy & # 39; s life.

In this way, Shadow of the Moon ends up in part of the natural human tragedy of generation projects such as those of Richard Linklater boyhood, a coming of age story filmed in the course of 12 years, or that of Michael Apted 7 up documentary series, which checks in with the same group of Britons every seven years to see how their lives are going. (The newest episode, 63 up, debuted earlier on British TV earlier in 2019.) As Shadow of the Moon follows the losses of Tommy, it starts to feel like a look at how people get older, how quickly time goes away from us and how we sacrifice possible parts of our lives with every priority we set.

Image: Netflix

But other aspects of the film are not that strong or deliberate. There is a side plot with a scientist appearing on the Tommy property with a handful of notes and some chatter about the moon, explaining both the title of the film and the nine-year holes. But the character never feels particularly integrated into the story, and both his information and his later decisions feel like the worst form of science fiction pulp plot splash. The nature of the deaths raises many questions that must be answered largely with "Because it is useful for the plot" or "Because it provides cool visuals." The concluding revelation is both exaggerated in his ridiculous patience and in the late attempt to arouse great, soft emotions in a film that the audience never lets feel.

The film concludes with a voice-over that seems to turn the entire project too late into a much more thought-out film about consequences and connection than it really is. As long as Shadow of the Moon holding onto action scenes and the pain of the isolated protagonist, it is a tightly wounded thriller with a surprisingly speculative element. But any attempt to reach outside that box feels halfhearted and frustratingly unfounded. It is like a small film that tries to get bigger, without enough heart or structure to support the bigger ambitions.



There is quite a bit of blood and a little blood, but nothing exceptional stomach pain. At most PG-13.


In the shadow of the moon launched on Netflix on September 27, 2019.