The Shadow of Death (2011)
Director/Writer: Gav Chuckie Steel
Starring: Dan Bone & Sophia Disgrace
Independent film-making is becoming more commonplace and certainly achieving a wider audience through the use of Twitter (other social networks are available). The funding isn’t there right now for determined small-time directors, but the interest from film fans certainly is. Perhaps the most important thing for independent film is to know and find its audience. Director Gav Chuckie Steel has produced a film that will please an audience wanting a stoner slasher with some good practical special effects thrown in with humdrum name-checking of films close to the director’s heart. It’s a film to be watched with beer (or other substances if you’re so inclined) but it left me cold and at times, annoyed.
The film follows Debra (Corinna Jane), Jamie (Jane West), Nancy (Sophia Disgrace) and Dan (Daniel Carter-Hope) who go into the English countryside in search of Dan’s dealer. They are soon lost and begin sharing urban legends in a small remote cabin, but a killer is on the loose. Their only hope for survival is that hapless, fake policeman Craven (Dan Bone) finds them before the killer does.
My main problem with the film is that it feels jumbled – introducing people at random within the forest to be bumped off and never referred to again. While this seems to be a device for showing off some well-crafted effects for rather inventive deaths, it does disjoint the film as these things have no relevance on the rest of the plot. Now, this can be said for other slasher films, although many are at least a part of the main cast and have more than a twenty second introduction before being done away with. It leaves the film looking unfinished, unpolished and more like a show reel than a film for audience enjoyment.
The other major flaw I found with the film was the character of Dan, whose constant use of the slur ‘lesbo’ as an insult to another character was annoying, unnecessary and at times, uncomfortable. I suspect (and hope) that this was used to make him irritating and unlikeable because frankly I was gritting my teeth the whole time he was on-screen. If he was meant to provoke that sort of reaction, then mission accomplished. Dan Bone does a bizarre Nick Frost in Hot Fuzz impersonation throughout as idiot policeman wannabe Craven, although never reaches the comic standard of the man he is trying to copy. The performances were passable, helped along by their shared dedication to Steel’s vision.
These complaints do not mean that there is nothing worth seeing in The Shadow of Death however, as a segment in which one character relays her dream to the others is dripping in tension and suspense. It teases the possibility of Steel perhaps turning his hand to a story relying less on gore and often lazy references to past horror films (not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that) to one concerning more psychological scares.
The film’s sound design and music is good, particularly in scenes where characters are walking over leaves in the forest and every satisfying crunch can be heard. This is a nice surprise, as in low budget films, the sound design is one of the first elements to suffer. Before turning his hand to directing, Steel composed music for other films and his expertise in this area shines through with a noticeable and enjoyable, but not intrusive soundtrack. The photography makes the most of the location, swirling through trees and creating some interesting images.
In closing, while The Shadow of Death did not do much for me, it will find an audience that really enjoys and ‘gets’ what the director set out to do. I get the feeling that the director made the sort of film that he and his friends would enjoy and while that is certainly not a problem, it certainly limits the audience for it.