'In the Shadow of the Moon': Film Review

Bad moon rising.
9/27/2019

Boyd Holbrook and Michael C. Hall star in Jim Mickle's sci-fi thriller about a time-hopping serial killer.

If time-travel movies give you a headache (as well they should), best to avoid director Jim Mickle's bizarre mashup of the science-fiction, thriller and horror genres. In the Shadow of the Moon, premiering on Netflix, doesn't fully satisfy in any of those departments, although you at least have to give the film points for ambition.

The trippy thriller begins with a prologue set in 2024, although we see little more than an abandoned high-rise office and a torn flag fluttering outside a broken window. It then flashes back to 1988 Philadelphia, where we see a series of people die horribly in mysterious fashion, their brains turning to liquid and blood oozing from every pore in their body. Responding to one of the crime scenes is Thomas Lockhart (Boyd Holbrook, The Predator), who, unlike his detective brother-in-law (Michael C. Hall, overqualified for the thankless role), discovers puncture wounds on the necks of the victims.

A young woman (Cleopatra Coleman) is identified as a suspect after more deaths occur at a nightclub. Lockhart manages to track her down and confront her in a subway station, but she displays remarkable physical agility and manages to overpower him. Even more remarkably, she seems to already know him and even congratulates him on his daughter who hasn't been born yet. "I'll see you soon," she promises, just before falling in front of a speeding train to her death.

Lockhart's daughter is indeed born that night, although his wife dies in childbirth. Cut to 1997, when Lockhart, now a detective himself, is still obsessed with what have become known as the "Market Street Murders." The late suspect has since become a cause célèbre, with anti-police protests erupting every year on the anniversary of her death. And then a series of apparent copycat murders begin happening, made even stranger by the fact that the suspect, caught on video surveillance, seems to be the same young woman who died nine years earlier.

And then things in the screenplay, co-written by Gregory Weidman and Geoffrey Tock, get even loopier. A scientist presses Lockhart with his theory that the murders align with a lunar cycle that "creates a bridge to another place entirely." His idea becomes borne out when the seemingly ageless killer appears again in 2006 and 2015, with Lockhart undergoing a physical and mental decline as a result of his helplessness in stopping her.

It's certainly an imaginative concept for a detective story, but the storyline gets so convoluted and baroque that unintentional humor sets in. By the time we learn the outlandish motivation of the time-traveling serial killer and her true identity, the twists have been coming so fast and furious that we've long stopped caring.

Add to that the endless predictable elements (has there ever been a screen detective who wasn't obsessed with an unsolved case and has the unkempt facial hair to prove It?) and repetitive series of rote car and foot chases and the film begins to seem ripe for Mystery Science Theater 3000 territory.

Holbrook, soon to be seen co-starring with Kiefer Sutherland in the Quibi reboot of The Fugitive, doesn't manage to transcend his role's cliched elements. Hall, defining his character mainly through supremely ugly eyeglasses, is far too good for this sort of material, and Bokeem Woodbine delivers solid work as Lockhart's skeptical partner. The standout is Coleman, who invests her enigmatic character with an arresting physicality that makes her far more interesting than as written.

Tech credits are fine, particularly David Lanzenberg's atmospheric, blue-tinged cinematography and Michael Berenbaum's fluid, action-oriented editing.

Production companies: 42, Automatik, Nightshade
Distributor: Netflix
Cast: Boyd Holbrook, Michael C. Hall, Cleopatra Coleman, Bokeem Woodbine, Rudi Dharmalingam, Rachel Keller, Michael C. hall
Director: Jim Mickle
Screenwriters: Gregory Weidman, Geoffrey Tock
Producers: Brian Kavanaugh Jones, Ben Pugh, Rian Cahill, Linda Moran, Jim Mickle
Executive producers: Aaron Barnett, Joshua Horsfield,
Director of photography: David Lanzenberg
Production designer: Russell Barnes
Editor: Michael Berenbaum
Composer: Jeff Grace
Costume designer: Michelle Lyte
Casting: John Buchan, Ellen Chenoweth, Jason Knight

115 minutes