Plot hides, suspense abides in 'Shadow Dancer'
Published: Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 15:11
When the introduction to a film includes a warning of “steadily paced,” it makes audiences both curious and apprehensive about the film which they are going to see. I’ve certainly witnessed my fair share of steadily paced films that I found worthwhile. Unfortunately, Shadow Dancer is not one of them.
Set in 1990s Belfast, Shadow Dancer chronicles Colette’s (Andrea Riseborough) journey from being a member of the Irish Republican Army to an informant for MI5.
Directed by documentary filmmaker James Marsh, this film is his first feature-length foray into the world of narrative fiction. The aesthetic of the camerawork certainly lends itself to a documentarian’s studied hand–the frame is full of life, always breathing, subtly or violently depending upon the mood of the scene. The takes are long, and the situations realistic. However, it is also painfully obvious that Marsh hasn’t worked in the realm of narrative fiction before, because the story moves at a snail’s pace.
The film is a thriller, and it succeeds insofar as there is a sense of suspense. Yet this suspense is fabricated, using a lack of action, tension-filled underscoring, and panic-stricken characters. The audience is never provided with enough information to discern what is going on within the plot, and therefore gets dragged along by the collar, watching supposedly important events unfold with no stake in them or frame of reference. There is no substantive character or story information given, and thus the film distills itself into nothing more than a tension-less suspense.
An effective tool to increase this mood of suspense is the omission of frame space--the audience sees only the bare minimum of a scene’s environment, creating an atmosphere of uneasiness. To push this even further, there’s a tendency to film through things, be it a translucent curtain, foggy window, or tangle of trees, reinforcing this state of entrapment. Even Colette is depicted from a slightly high angle, with a crowded frame that cuts off the top of her head.
The use of color tone creates a contrast between comfortable environments and hostile ones. Colette’s home is full of warm tones and shadowed, cool corners--it’s an environment of gradients where you can be as visible or invisible as you wish, in a literal or figurative sense. The government of interrogation rooms and police headquarters explodes with harsh fluorescents and nowhere to hide.
Shadow Dancer uses keen cinematic techniques to portray a sense of paranoiac fear. But this fear is pure manipulation without anything substantive provided to form a cohesive series of events. The images are well-shot and the suspense successful, but the film falls flat due to a lack of content.