The Shadow Within is a creditable Italian horror film made in 2007 which benefits greatly from its unusual setting and desire to try something a little different. Set in a small, rural town in wartime France, Marie Dumont (Hayley J Williams) lives in a large villa along with her son, Maurice (Laurence Belcher). The two of them have become increasingly withdrawn from the people around them: Marie’s husband – like most of the men in the area – has been called up and is off fighting; she is still suffering from depression caused by the death of Maurice’s twin during childbirth; while Maurice seems to have some kind of connection to his dead brother, and is seen as having second sight by all the locals. In the meantime, an outbreak of diphtheria is claiming the lives of other children in the area and some of the bereaved mothers come to the conclusion that Maurice represents an excellent means of communicating with them beyond the grave. It does not end well.
With it’s snowy landscapes and period trappings, this is an effectively moody film that holds the interest even if its never actually all that frightening. There are some enjoyably surreal sequences – Maurice’s discovery of a giant umbilical cord in a graveyard, for instance – and it’s at its most effective when depicting the everyday cruelties of rural life in a pre-industrialized Italy (a funeral sequence in which Maurice is almost forced into the coffin of a dead boy stands out). Director Silvana Zancola, who also directed the little seen giallo La radice del male in 2006, helms it all in a restrained fashion – more along the lines of Pupi Avati than Lucio Fulci – and it’s all the better for it (although some may find it a little *too* measured).
So largely positive then, apart from two things. Firstly, the CGI effects; I’m really not sure if I liked these or hated them. For once they make no effort to appear realistic, with the ghost appearing almost like an animated child’s drawing (i.e. something from Maurice’s imagination). It’s a good idea, but it looks a bit cheesy in practice. Secondly – and I say this with just about every Italian horror film I review nowadays – the acting is horrible. I’m convinced this is because it is an Italian filmmaker trying to make a film in the English language with English language performers; it would work better using Italian performers and then dubbing into English (or simply using subtitles). Italian filmmakers seem unable to direct English actors. The one exception to this is the young Laurence Belcher, who is excellent as Maurice (he’s gone on to appear in X Men: First Class and Diana, but let’s not hold that against him).