IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON is the latest film from director Jim Mickle (Stake Land, Cold in July) which centers on a Philadelphia police officer’s lifelong struggle in capturing a mysterious serial killer who’s crimes defy all logic. The film stars Boyd Holbrook (Logan, The Predator), Cleopatra Coleman (Hover), Bokeem Woodbine (Spider-Man: Homecoming), Rudi Dharmalingam (The Split), Rachel Keller (Legion), and Michael C. Hall (Dexter, Six Feet Under). IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON had its World Premiere at 2019’s Fantastic Fest.
To best describe the synopsis, I’ll turn to the official description as follows: “In 1998, Philadelphia police officer Thomas Lockhart (Boyd Holbrook), hungry to become a detective, begins tracking a serial killer who mysteriously resurfaces every nine years. But when the killer’s crimes begin to defy all scientific explanation, Locke’s obsession with finding the truth threatens to destroy his career, his family, and possibly his sanity.
The year is 1988 and on the day in question three people have died under mysterious circumstances. After kissing his pregnant wife goodbye for the evening, Officer Lockhart (Boyd Holbrook) gets ready for his night shift while the TV blasts in the background with news reports about the deaths. Upon arriving at the first scene, where a bus tipped over, Lockhart notices that the drives has three puncture wounds on the back of her neck and she’s been completely bled out. Curious as to what could have caused this, Lockhart visits the other two victims, inserting himself into the investigation at the annoyance of Lockhart’s brother-in-law, Detective Holt (Michael C. Hall). When they get a call that another person has been attacked by a mysterious assailant, Lockhart, along with his partner Maddox (Bokeem Woodbine), arrive just in time to get a description of the perp – a black woman dressed in a blue hoodie. As the Philly police force rolls into action, Lockhart literally runs into her, resulting in a cat and mouse chase through the city. However, everything ends violently and mysteriously once Lockhart locates her in the subway during which his wife goes into labor. After tragedy strikes, we watch as a tangled story unfolds in the 27 years that follow and how that one fateful night in 1988 changed the course of Lockhart’s life as he knows it.
IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON is a wild ride that takes viewers through the lives of the pivotal characters through 9-year intervals. In a way, Lockhart is fighting a ghost that he can’t seem to convince exists to those around him, resulting in him going down a rabbit hole of obsession. I have to hand it to Boyd Holbrook as he does a superb job of embodying Lockhart as he gets progressively more unhinged and distant from the things that should be the most important to him. I don’t want to say too much about Rya, played by Cleopatra Coleman, but what I can say is that she’s a woman who possesses immense strength and unbridled determination towards the goal that has been placed in front of her. Michael C. Hall is always someone I enjoy seeing on the big (or small) screen and though he doesn’t have a lot of screen time, he still leaves a memorable performance as Detective Holt, especially when it comes time for him to show Lockhart how his actions are affecting the rest of his family. I’m purposely leaving a lot of plot points out of this review because of spoilers but believe me when I say that the film utilizes sci-fi aspects brilliantly. What really pushes that into gear is not only when Lockhart finds the assailants weapon back in 1988, but also when a supposed copycat killer emerges 9 years later and the mystery of who the killer is begins to emerge.
Jim Mickle does an excellent job of bringing Gregory Weidman and Geoffrey Tock’s story to life while also showcasing events and themes that many viewers will be able to identify with. Most notably that of the riots that unfold due to the police brutality that takes place against the black community, especially the women once the assailants description gets out. It very much mirrors the experiences that so many people of color unfortunately still face today, making those moments in the film even more harrowing to watch. This plot line is a huge aspect of the film that starts off subtly, but once all the pieces are in place it makes sense to the overall story. Other themes that are touched upon have to do with sacrifice and forgiveness, as well as coming to terms with the consequences of one’s actions from the past and the ripple effect it can cause. There’s a lot of depth to this film which allows the performances to be well-rounded and grounded, even during the fantastical moments, which makes for a rather surprising emotional viewing experience.
Overall, IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON is a heart-wrenching tale that shows the horrors of humanity, both in the past and present, alongside the backdrop of a smart sci-fi thriller. This is one of those films that I look forward to watching again so as to pick up on the smaller details that bring the story full circle. Fans of horror will find a lot to enjoy in this film, especially in regards to the practical effects used in achieving some of the more grotesque moments. All that said, how this film goes about shining a light on topics such as racism and diversity is quite unique and my hope is that it will allow for deeper conversations among people after viewing it. Make sure to check out IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON when it arrives on Netflix September 27.