Saturday, October 26, 2013

Honourable Mentions: Shadow People

This is a 2013 film by Matthew Arnold and the reason it is getting an Honourable Mention is because of the subject matter it covers and how it interacts with original vampire folklore – note there isn’t actually something within the film we would recognise necessarily as a vampire.

You will be aware that in much of the early reports of the 18th century vampire panics that people reported visitations and invariably reported being strangled rather than being bitten. The assumption around the vampire drinking blood probably came from the discovery of “fresh blood” in the mouths, organs and coffins of suspected vampires. As such the vampire is like the mare, which gave its name to “nightmare”.

Fuseli the Nightmare
From Teresa Bane’s Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology (p 121), under the entry ride, we here that, “Upon entering the room, the vampire usually induces a form of sleep paralysis, rendering the victim unable to move or speak but otherwise fully aware of his surroundings. By either sitting upon his chest or straddling the victim, the vampire then causes some varying amount of pressure to the person’s body.” Bane’s entry goes on to discuss a sexual aspect and, indeed, there can sometimes be that with the phenomena. Henry Fuseli famously painted the Nightmare depicting this and there is a school of thought that the phenomena of sleep paralysis, and the resulting hallucinations that can occur, can explain aspects of vampirism, incubus/succubus visitation, grey alien “abduction”, indeed the plethora of night time visitation myths.

This film looks at this phenomena – the “visitors” being called shadow people. It begins with various people discussing a viral video of a sleep experiment, which seems to be causing seemingly healthy people to die in their sleep. The Japanese film the Ring is mentioned and this film tracks the release of the video. One aspect of it I wasn’t keen on was the fact that it was shot like a documentary with the film being re-enactments and then other documentary footage (with alternate actors playing the characters) was interspersed within. Whilst a clever idea, it did break the flow of the film and thus any tension it built.

Teng scared
We then get a scene set in Cambodia in 1979. A group of men sit talking of a recent death in a nearby village. It is said that the man who died had seen his killer before, that he was attacked in his sleep and his face was contorted in terror – he is not the only one to die. This is listened to by a young boy named Teng (Chham) who becomes scared and doesn’t want to sleep. His mother (Chak Reya) tells him not to worry but allows one candle to be left on. A shadow moves in the room and, when she checks on him, he is dead.

Dallas Roberts as Charlie Crow
Kentucky in 2008 and Charlie Crow (Dallas Roberts) is a late night radio talk show host whose ratings are falling. He is called, towards the end of the show, by a young man called Jeff (Jonathan Baron, True Blood season 6) who claims to be seeing shadows. They are not ghosts he insists but Charlie cuts him off as a crank call. After scenes that show his estrangement from his ex-wife (Anne Dudek) and son, Preston (Mattie Liptak) he finds a package from Jeff, containing photos of a sleep experiment and a notebook full of his fears.

Jonathan Baron as Jeff
Jeff calls the show again and Charlie speaks to him. Jeff says that they come if you think about them and then asks how someone can stop thinking about a given thing. He has a gun and a shot is fired, though it becomes quickly apparent that he shot the wall not himself. Charlie, after coercion from the station, goes to visit Jeff in hospital but he is dead, he died in his sleep. This sends Charlie on a path to discover the truth. Along the way a college girl (Mariah Bonner) who helps him with his research dies in her sleep (having seen shadows in the showers). He starts talking about this on his show, the ratings go up and people contact about their experiences but others die.

So, what is going on? The film doesn’t tell us exactly. It suggests that this might be something brought from Cambodia as the CDC agent Sophie Lacombe (Alison Eastwood) discovers a previous outbreak, but this is contrary to Charlie’s research into the old European myths. We see an attack on Charlie as he is paralysed in bed and the thing lunges at him. From our point of view it is interesting that it has fangs – they look better in the one second flash than in the still by the way. Ultimately Lacombe decides that it is a negative placebo effect, that if you believe that these things are there you can end up causing the effects (paralysis and then death) yourself. However the film doesn’t confirm either way and, because of this, we do not hear what exactly kills the people (presumably it would be draining energy – which would make them vampiric – or the individuals scaring themselves to death). The film does not include a sexual aspect.

in the TV
I won’t go into the video of the experiment from the 70s or how it gets out – from the point of view of this honourable mention it is a side issue. If the documentary aspect had been cut out then more could have been done with the mystery and the horror/thriller moments (I think it was more thriller than horror as stands). However, from a TMtV viewpoint this is a film that examines the phenomena that could have either been supernatural creatures interpreted as vampires or the phenomenon of mass hysteria within a community that led to the delusion of a vampire outbreak. Either way it is of genre interest.

The imdb page is here.

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