It's a premise that's bound to succeed: A young man living on the edge is trying to pull it all together while frequenting 12-step programs and holding down a job that seems calculated to drive him insane. Searching for a way out, he makes contact with a mysterious figure who seems to have all the answers. But these answers lead to temptation, and temptation leads to an ever-darker downward spiral, into a sordid world of anarchy and violence...
The story is rife with possibilities, but it was already filmed by David Fincher last fall, under the title Fight Club. Shadow Hours writer-director Isaac H. Eaton couldn't have seen Fincher's film before starting production on his version of the tale, but the similarities are unfortunate: They make Eaton's film look like more of a knockoff than it is (and there will be knockoffs, believe me).
A well-chosen cast and a bevy of authentic settings work in Shadow Hours' favor, but ultimately, the film doesn't have the budget to compete with a big-studio David Fincher movie on a stylistic level. Still, there is much to recommend the film; fans of movies that feature scary character actors being sleazy amid the dregs of a city after midnight will lap it up like crazy.
The relative straight man among the human debris is Michael Holloway, played by Balthazar Getty (also the film's co-producer) in Lost Highway mode: slightly dazed, with the potential for falling off the deep end. When his best friend, played by Corin Nemec, leaves town for good to start a new life, Michael tries to settle down with his young, pregnant fiancée (Rebecca Gayheart, who seems to be trying hard not to look glamorous, at which she fails). As many of us may know, it's not easy to get a job when you're a reformed drug addict with tattooed fingers, but Michael manages to snag a graveyard-shift position at a gas station, owned by an amusingly Southern Brad Dourif. Dourif, by the way, is one of the most normal human beings in the film, if that gives you any idea.
There's a serial killer loose somewhere in the city, and a rather terrifying police officer (Peter Greene) is on the case, but so far he's turned up nothing but a used cigarette pack, so he hangs around the gas station once he figures out that the cigs are a generic brand sold there.
Meanwhile, amid the usual crowd of teenage junkies and crazy homeless guys, a stylish writer pulls up, calling himself Stuart Chappell (Peter Weller). Initially rebuffed by Michael when he tries to pay by credit card, the writer soon piques Michael's interest with an offer to come hang out with him and experience life, something he will pay handsomely for, as it all comprises "research" for his next book. Shortly thereafter, Michael is ditching work to go hang out at underground pit fights, tattoo bondage clubs and strip bars, where it isn't long before all the old addictions come creeping back. Noses start to bleed, the wife threatens to leave and clues start to point toward the mysterious Stuart as not only a possible serial killer, but maybe even something supernatural -- a "guardian angel," in his words. Choices must be made between good and evil, but Stuart quite forcibly insists that if his young protégé wishes to climb out of the darkness, he must first descend to the very bottom.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Shadow Hours will probably play as freakier in the heartland than on the West Coast, as it's hard at this point for any L.A. resident to get too creeped out by locations in Hollywood and downtown. Similarly, bondage and tattoo shows aren't exactly shocking to anyone who's spent time on the Sunset Strip. There is one image that is truly disturbing, that of notorious performance artist Ron Athey sinking hooks into his face to create a Joker-like smile, but it's unfortunately completely tangential to the story. Those who have already seen the image in the trailer and are expecting Athey to be a villain, or any significant character at all, will be disappointed. Weller, however, is almost compensation enough, playing it freakier than he has since he channeled William Burroughs in Naked Lunch. There aren't a lot of actors who could deliver a line like "I've seen things in this town make Dante's Inferno look like Winnie the Pooh" and not make you laugh out loud.
Then, of course, there's Peter Greene, portraying, unsurprisingly enough, a frightening lunatic, in this case one with a badge. If you're a Star Trek viewer who can't imagine that any actor could make Michael Dorn (a.k.a. Lieutenant Worf) look like a scaredy cat, well, you don't know Peter Greene. Lacking in Klingon facial prosthetics, Dorn, although quite tall and still deep-voiced, is made to look insignificant by his onscreen partner Greene, who is fully up to the challenge posed by Weller's weirdness. It's hard for leading man Getty to compete with these two heavyweights, but hey, we have to have someone to relate to, and he'll do.
There are precisely two things that could have pushed Shadow Hours over the edge from enjoyable B movie to cult classic, and both may have been subpar because of a lack of funds. First, the cinematography. It shouldn't be too hard to make a gas station at night look interesting, or the various dark nooks and crannies of S&M clubs, but Boxing Helena cinematographer Frank Byers' work is strictly generic: Many of the images seem like exact copies of those seen in inferior drivel like Body Shots. Second, the soundtrack, which again brings back awful Body Shots flashbacks. While many artists are credited for contributing songs, it seems as though there's one endless, in-your-face techno beat that doesn't let up during the gas station scenes. Anyone who has ever worked graveyard can tell you that such shifts are never fast-paced, as the music implies: Lou Reed or Medicine would have been a better choice, or, if it had to be electronica, The Orb.
So Shadow Hours must stand simply as an impressive B movie. Compared to what we've seen lately, however, that doesn't seem like a bad achievement by any means.