[Brooklyn Horror 2023 Review] THE SHADE

Mental illness and horror have had a relationship for a long time. A great strength of the genre is how it helps us to better understand the darker parts of ourselves, the world around us, and the human condition in a cathartic form. Knowing that others have experienced the same hardships makes us feel less alone. There’s considerable power in that. Especially in recent years, mental illness has been a hot-button topic in horror, but few have so closely examined the healing process like THE SHADE.

Conceived as an empathetic, deep dive into suicidal grief, the feature debut from Tyler Chipman and Red King Cinema is a portrait of a family in a crisis. Ryan Beckman (Chris Galust) is still grieving the loss of his father, who tragically took his own life a year ago. He lives with his mother (Laura Benanti) and looks after his younger brother James (Sam Duncan). When his older brother Jason (Dylan McTee) suddenly and unexpectedly returns home from college, tensions rise. When Ryan gradually notices an entity lurking in the darkness, he suspects that whatever it is has been passed down from their father to him and his siblings and must find a way to confront it.

The road to recovery for mental health issues is not a vague gesture here. Ryan visits with his therapist regularly (Michael Boatman), struggles with remembering to take his medication, and sporadically experiences intense anxiety attacks. Chipman acknowledged that the latter was inspired by his own struggle with anxiety disorder during the Q&A. Jason, on the other hand, is antagonistic when he returns home, drinking heavily and blasting metal music in the early morning hours (the metal and shoegaze-influenced score suits the tone well). It’s not always doom and gloom, as is with those struggling with mental illness. Moments of levity exist in and out of the Beckman household, even if we understand those won’t last long.

Over two hours, THE SHADE sticks out from its peers by exhibiting great patience. It’s about thirty minutes into the film when it begins to hint at its stakes, at least in the supernatural sense. Given its underlying themes, we know what could happen at any point, and the creative team recognizes that losing a loved one to suicide is more harrowing than any demonic entity a horror movie can throw at you. Given that it is a feature debut, I do see room for growth directorially speaking. In particular, I would’ve liked more variety and texture in the shot composition. Chipman might need some time to separate himself stylistically as a visual artist.

THE SHADE was produced to spark an honest dialogue, and I have little doubt that it will achieve that amongst the intersection of horror fans and the mental health community. It has also allowed me to reflect on my own mental health journey. I began therapy for the first time back in 2019, motivated by my wanting to learn how to care for someone dealing with intense suicidal ideation and clinical depression and how I could cope with that. It was also then that I began having open conversations with my family on the topic – we previously just chalked it up as something we never really talked about.

One of the aspects I most appreciate about THE SHADE is the bond between its brothers and how these issues bring them together. This bond is all the more significant come the climax, a reminder that recovery does not have to be scary as long as we have the love and support of others every step of the way.

THE SHADE had its world premiere at Brooklyn Horror Film Fest on October 17th, 2023.

Tom Milligan
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