Shadow of the Moon

{Fantastic Fest} In the Shadow of the Moon

The newest science fiction movie from Netflix has the same thing going for it as it does holding it back. The last few science fiction movies from Netflix have…. not been good. They often lack creativity and star power and have given us genre programming that seems more Hallmark than Shudder. With In the Shadow of the Moon the streaming company sought to fix both of those problems by first bringing in famed and beloved genre director Jim Mickle to helm the newest science fiction venture. The company then cast Michael C. Hall who many will recognize in his role as the titular Dexter on the Showtime series of the same name in a supporting role in the movie. The had the star power, they had the director, could they right their science fiction ship? The answer is mostly yes. The movie is interesting and sharp but certainly not perfect. You could call it a waxing gibbous.

Courtesy of Netflix

The movie despite its complex timeline is quite simple. Two cops (an older detective Holt, played by Michael C. Hall and the other officer Locke, played with a healthy dose of Rust Cohle by Boyd Hollbrook) who are also brothers in law investigate a series of murders that seem to occur every 9 years. The murderer seems to be a shifty and prescient Rya who may or may not be from the future (Cleopatra Coleman). Michael C. Hall brings a gravitas to his role as the older more mature Holt while never letting his role as the dick define his character entirely.

In the Shadow of the Moon works hard to challenge the audience by telling the story across four different decades. It is hard work as an actor to play the same character across four decades but an environment where Hollbrook really shines. As the other characters remain static Locke’s degeneration is both a masterwork in makeup design but a testament to the commitment he makes to the character. If there is any problem with the characters I may have it might be that there is so much of the script given to Locke it feels like the movie neglects everyone else just a bit. Locke is sprinting which makes everyone else look like they are standing still.

The first part of the movie plays out as a gritty noir film. We get Philadelphia in all its grimy eighties splendor. This relatively straight forward crime drama gets turned on its head with a major reveal in the first thirty minutes. As the movie transitions from police procedural to soft science fiction time travel flick the tone doesn’t change. It is soft science fiction because we don’t get big effects laden shots of what the future may hold. In a lot of ways the movie feels pretty low-fi as a bulk of the movie takes place in the eighties and ninties.

This simplicity helps keep the audience focused on the plot but also means we get the obligatory scene early in the film where we get a time travel explanation that feels more like mad-libs completed by Neil Degrasse-Tyson than actual science. Something something something moon with something something tides and something something quantum connection between two worlds. It is not integral to the plot but it is a little frustrating. It was never enough to take me out of the movie as the science fiction seems to be more of a vehicle for the deeper (and frankly better) plot to unfold.

Courtesy of Netflix

Jim Mickle is confident in his direction and with the genre. He knows what he is doing and has never been shy about using political allegory. Moon is no different. The movie leans into a modern political sensibility that becomes as much about our current state of politics as it does about understanding the nuance of time travel. Our murderer, a woman of color, wearing a hoodie, is hunted by two white cops in the middle of an urban environment. This is Mickle at his best when he is willing to let the movie go where it wants to take him. At its core, Moon is about cycles. Cycles of neglect. Cycles of grief. Cycles of love and of course cycles of the moon. Hall and Holbrook have a few scenes at the end of the movie that almost made me want to call my own brother in law and apologize for being an asshole (I said almost).

While the movie has some problems (it grossly underuses Cleopatra Coleman for one), it means well. It assumes the audience will be smart enough to follow the relatively complex plot. It also assumes that genre audiences want and need a little character development which often is not the case. If this is Netflix learning from its mistakes and looking to indy genre directors to lead them out of their past failures then bravo. Let’s hope Moon is not part of a reoccurring cycle but rather a course correction where the streaming company is trying to fix some of its past errors. It is certainly a good start.

When: In the Shadow of the Moon will be released on Netflix September 27th. 

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