Making a film using live actors set against and entirely digital backlot – think Sin City (2004) – is a monumental challenge for the even the deep pockets of Hollywood’s most ambitious money-men. Making such a film independently, with a limited to non-existent budget in a barn in Lincolnshire, well, that’s something else entirely. Bold, foolish perhaps? Perhaps a combination of the two, but it is a project taken on by debut filmmakers Chris Clark and Richard Dutton and now, finally, after several years of hard work Shadows Of The Stranger is finally getting a release.
Without getting into the baffling complexities of how this film even exists, the basic premise is as such. In said barn, the filmmakers constructed a blue screen studio and acted out scenes from the film before adding in virtually everything in post-production. Utilised by larger studio productions to either present a “reality” (The Jungle Book (2016)) or a stylised graphic novel (Sin City), here Clark and Dutton have created a world that, while visually recognisable as “modern day”, has a visual aesthetic akin almost to a video game cut scene. In truth, the nearest likeness, while wildly different in theme, would be 1982’s Tron, which offered a similar visual note of actors supplanted into a digital world.
The interesting thing with Shadows Of A Stranger, though, is that after adjusting to the visuals some ten or so minutes in, you forget you’re watching something almost entirely digital. There are moments initially that stand out for the wrong reasons; a sense of a character floating as they walk down a street, a door being slammed that carries no weight – simple things usually taken for granted but that trigger alarm bells for the senses. Latterly, these irritations largely disappear and you find yourself drawn into the story, as you would hope with any film.
To the backdrop of a grisly murder, a return of an annual festive killing spree from The Christmas Reaper, private detective David Sherborne (Ian Mude) is tasked with finding the estranged son of a wealthy patron (Colin Baker). His path crosses that of loner Xander (Clark), whose “abilities” lead them close to solving both mysteries.
As atmospheric as the film becomes, there are further issues. The dialogue often feels under-written, as if sections of the script were pasted into others, giving scenes a lob-sided, underwritten feeling. And, given the number of inexperienced members in the cast, moments of awkwardness are perhaps understandable, but do still threaten to draw you out of the world so painstakingly created. Issues, yes, but it seems almost churlish to focus on negatives given what the filmmakers have achieved.
Filmmaking such as this should be admired and respected, wherever it comes from. Without those prepared to take a chance we would be left with by-the-numbers fare that barely warrants or deserves an emotional response. No, Shadows Of A Stranger deserves an audience, not only for the ambition and skill demonstrated by the filmmakers, but also because, in the end, it’s a pretty good film.
SHADOWS OF A STRANGER / CERT: TBC / DIRECTORS: CHRIS CLARK, RICHARD DUTTON / SCREENPLAY: RICHARD DUTTON / STARRING: IAN MUDE, COLIN BAKER, CHRIS CLARK / RELEASE DATE: UK RELEASE TBA