Fantasia Festival Report: Shadow Dead Riot
With his final words from Fantasia, here is Philippe Gohier on Shadow: Dead Riot ...
Hated it. Absolutely, unequivocally hated it.
With gratuitous sex and violence, set in a women's prison of all places, the movie delivers on its promise of unapologetic sleaze. Still, despite the tits and the zombies, Shadow: Dead Riot leaves me wanting more. Not more sex. And certainly not more violence. But more of anything that can not be reduced to a teenage wet dream.
Shadow, the film's namesake, is an imposing death row prisoner who concocts a vague supernatural spell that, twenty years after his execution, sparks the rise of zombies from the prison's underbelly. There to fight the zombies is Solitaire - along with a entire ward of equally tough and attractive female prisoners - a fiercely independent new arrival at the prison. Yes, her name is Solitaire and she doesn't like being around people… how hopelessly clever. Before the zombies make their somehow predictable entrance, Solitaire keeps herself busy fighting the good fight, i.e. defending the helpless women in her unit against the sexual advances of Mondo, the reigning bully.
Quite frankly, I would have loved to see a self-consciously low-rent c-movie. Something exploitive, but subtle. Classless but clever. Unfortunately, Shadow had neither class nor subtlety. And no amount of tits and ass can make up for that. From its first shower scene inside the prison, to its last gasp as a horror-zombie flick, Shadow is a forgettable disaster because it fails to generate anything but adolescent “hooray for boobies" snickers.
There is simply no compelling explanation for the rise of the zombies. Or Solitaire's apparent spiritual relationship with Shadow. Or her compassion for her pregnant cellmate. Other than Tony Todd, whose appearance as Shadow is brief but nonetheless tragically ridiculous, none of the characters manage to generate any sort of emotion. At their best, they are detached and ambivalent. But most of the time, they are like hollow cadavers; lifted from their day-jobs to act out a middle school fantasy.
I have a sneaking suspicion that director Derek Wan – a cinematographer from Hong Kong making his U.S. directorial debut - set out to make a deliberately tacky movie, got sidetracked by delusions of grandeur, and ended up thinking they had a legitimate project under way, all the while forgetting to do anything about the terrible script in his hands. There is simply no other way to explain the complete absence of conscious self-derision in such an obviously crass project.
Anchored by hokey dialogue, a hackneyed premise, and an overwhelming ignorance of everything funny, sexy or scary, Shadow: Dead Riot is forgettable trash, worth neither indignation nor offense.
Review by Philippe Gohier.