In the Shadows leaves the viewer with more questions than answers about its dystopian vision.
When I read the synopsis for the “steampunk dystopian film” In the Shadows, I had quite a strong preconception of what it would be like. Thankfully, I was very wrong. I was intrigued by this description, and the film left me dwelling on it for days, wanting to rewatch. Where I expected polished, futuristic technology, I got a rusted coal factory. Where I expected Big Brother, I found perplexing broken cameras hiding a bigger mystery. There are no easy answers in this film, but I believe it achieves exactly what the director, Erdem Tepegöz, set out to do.
There is relatively little dialogue, but enough is said visually. The film is interesting and dynamic, and the acting is compelling. This lack of dialogue, and the omnipresent cameras through which we and “they” view the miner, played by Numan Acar, reveal the monotony and fear of the characters. Something bigger is at play, which neither we nor the protagonist can put our finger on, and it is satisfying to watch him become increasingly certain of himself. The film really sucks you into the miner’s day-to-day life, into the mystery.
When the miner contracts an unknown illness, we really do feel for him and begin to understand that there is something very strange going on here. There are no monsters lurking in the mines, no terrifying aliens spreading disease; instead, the horror is very human and very hidden. The ability the unknown Big Brother figures have to manipulate the environment and machinery of the work camp in order to scare the workers into submission sustains a sense of dread and fear throughout the film. This isn’t any kind of typical horror film, but watching the miner explore the depths of the factory and mines is fascinating and anxiety-inducing. Most importantly, it is inspiring to watch, as the miner begins to uncover more, showing the other workers what he finds, and beginning to take a stand against the oppressive regime he is trapped in. I spent the whole film rooting for this intimidating, angry man, and I loved every minute of it.
The setting is fantastic, and clearly where the steampunk aspect comes in. This work camp-come-mining village feels like its own contained machine, and it is fascinating to watch as more and more of it is explored, building the puzzle before our eyes. The towers behind the areas where the miners work and live keep our focus tightly on the inside of the camp and the viewer feels trapped inside as well, making the exploration of this vast setting intriguing, as we constantly wonder how far he will be able to go. It is a satisfying exploration of fascinating set design, and the dramatic highs and lows of the lighting really show off the carefully constructed tone of this film.
At times I felt like one of the cameras, or the mysterious “they” who are watching the miner, but without the privileged, voyeuristic gaze one would expect “them” to have. In fact, I spent most of the film itching to know more. When is this set? How did he get there? Who are “they”? Somewhat frustratingly, while some of the mysteries in the film are explained, most aren’t. This does make me itch to rewatch it, discuss it, and keep thinking about it, but I would prefer to have had slightly more closure. The ending was interesting but again opened up more questions. Again, this seems deliberate, as answers could have been easily given, but I’m undecided whether this would be an improvement or a cheap way to tie up loose ends. I definitely enjoyed the film and would encourage you to go see it at Glasgow Film Festival. It was fascinating and tense, and put together brilliantly, and I certainly left it with questions, but ones which I felt I could happily interpret for myself.
In the Shadows is showing at Glasgow Film Festival from 25 February.