There were a number of straight-to-video horror films made in the late 90’s that managed to rise above their budgetary restrictions. Shadowbuilder is one of those films. Don’t let the gaudy holographic cover scare you off; this theological thriller wasn’t cut from the same cloth as Jack Frost.
Loosely based on a Bram Stoker short story, Shadowbuilder concerns a whilom demon who lurks in the shadows and plots to steal the soul of a boy who bled from stigmata wounds during his baptism. The storyline is fairly convoluted, as you can surmise from the synopsis. A cockful of questions go unanswered. I was never sure how the Shadow Builder came to be anthropomorphized. It has something to do with Bible verses and a Satanic cult. I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start by telling you why I’m giving this sortilegious spookshow my stab of approval.
Director Jamie Dixon worked as a special effects technician on several large-scale projects before assuming the role of commander-in-chief. His experience with bells and whistles shows on more than one occasion. Shadowbuilder looks fantastic for a low-budget effort. Most of the scenes involving the titular specter are enhanced with digital effects, but the CGI never hinders the film. All of the imagery is tasty. Moonlit graveyards, spazzy POV shots, slinking shadows…this flick was tailor-made for Halloween parties. In a sense, Shadowbuilder reminds me of garish supernatural genre ditties from the late 80’s such as The Serpent and the Rainbow and even A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. That can’t be a bad thing.
The cast is a strong selling point. Michael Rooker plays Father Vassey, a world-weary priest who serves as a convenient expository tool. He’s the guy who explains everything at the hour mark. Rooker is a class act, in my book. He brings a roiled edge to the character, and in doing so, he fleshes out a role that could have easily been paper-thin. Kevin Zegers displays impressive acting chops as Chris, the pure spirit being pursued by the Shadow Builder. None of the child actors grated my nerves, which is a tall order. Tony Todd has a small part as the town kook. It was fun seeing him play against type, though he isn’t given much to do.
The Shadow Builder is an interesting villain. He looks cool. My sole grievance has to do with the Shadow Builder’s loquacious nature. He talks too much. Way too much. To add insult to injury, no one bothered to distort his voice. You would expect an ancient fiend to sound a little more...evil? Still, I liked the way Dixon handled his outwardly appearance. The Shadow Builder is kept in the shadows. His backstory is also kept in the shadows, but I can overlook the vague mythology. The pace is swift, the climax is action-packed, and the atmosphere is thick with murky inscrutability. Whatever happened to this Dixon fellow?
It only took eleven years, but I finally took a chance on Shadowbuilder. I’m certainly glad that I did. It won’t make anyone’s Top 10 list, but it was a fresh fright flick in 1998. Bear in mind, Shadowbuilder was released in the trend-friendly wake of Scream. And really, it’s a fresh fright flick in 2009. Give it a look-see if you’re thirsting for something different.
Posted by Dom Coccaro at 8:15 PM