In the Shadow of the Moon, which recently arrived on Netflix after bowing at the Fantastic Fest in Austin, is a deeply weird, but ultimately enjoyable mashup of several genres. It incorporates established police procedural/cop-on-the-edge concepts with sci-fi and even time travel. It’s also very much entwined with its director’s hometown of Philadelphia, even though it wasn’t filmed there.
Also, despite its title, its sci-fi elements, and its arrival in the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, In The Shadow of the Moon has just about nothing to do with the moon.
The film, which has set off a bit of a frenzy on social media as viewers devoured its surprise ending, was directed by Jim Mickle, best known for directing We Are What We Are, the 2013 horror movie that remade a Mexican film of the same name.
In The Shadow of the Moon focuses on a Philadelphia cop named Lockhart (Boyd Holbrook), who in 1988 is hoping, along with his partner Maddox (Bokeem Woodbine) to make detective, while awaiting the birth of his first child.
There’s a mysterious case of random people around town bleeding to death from their heads, which Lockhart hopes to solve, but instead, he ends up confronting a ninja-like young woman named Rya (Cleopatra Coleman), who appears to know about events in the future. She also appears in multiple time periods, always ready to kill.
Each segment of the film is set in a different year, as the plot begins with massive terrorist attacks in the future, and then jumps from 1996 to 2006 to 2015 to even further in the future. Throughout it all, Rya keeps reappearing even after she appears to be dead. It all leads up to both time travel paradoxes and a series of ethical-moral dilemmas, as introduced by a scientist (Rudi Dharmalingam), most of which sounds an awful lot like stoned dorm-room bull sessions.
Holbrook, who is 38, is convincing at several different ages, even if his performance never does much to transcend the well-worn cliches of this type of cop film. Woodbine, so wonderful a couple of years ago in the Fargo TV show, shines here in an all-too-brief role. Coleman is also outstanding in a role that’s more about physicality than speaking.
As for that surprise ending, it appears to be making heads explode across Twitter, although I guessed it at some point during the second act. But it all adds up and makes sense, thanks to a taut script by Gregory Weidman and Geoffrey Tock. Even if it does raise some somewhat troubling moral questions if one thinks about the implications of what’s raised.
Mickle, the director, is from Pottstown, outside of Philadelphia, and likely set the film in Philly for that reason. It’s much more realistically Philly than most films shot in Ontario, with SEPTA buses, cheesesteaks, accurate-looking police uniforms, and a few glimpses of the skyline, even if no one’s wearing Eagles stuff, and the accent work is somewhat iffy.
This is especially the case with former Dexter star Michael C. Hall, getting back to crime scene analysis as a cop with a not-especially-convincing Philly accent- one that, as a viral Twitter clip has demonstrated, has the North Carolina native at one point slipping into a British accent.
In the Shadow of the Moon won’t be anyone’s idea of a cinema classic, but it is the sort of movie to be thankful for as mid-budget sci-fi films without any stars tend not to get made anymore by major studios.