The Shadow Within (2007)

Rating: B-

Dir: Silvana Zancolo
Star: Laurence Belcher, Hayley J Williams, Beth Winslet, Rod Hallett

It’s a French village during wartime, with almost all the men away fighting, and a diphtheria epidemic stalking the population. On the outskirts of town lives nine-year old Maurice (Belcher) with his mother (Williams), who does her best to keep him from the rest of the inhabitants, but word is slowly spreading that Maurice has the ability to communicate with the dead, in particular his late twin brother Jacques, who died during childbirth. The local doctor (Winslet – and, yes, she is Kate’s sister) insists that Maurice should attend the local school, where her husband (Hallett) is the teacher, though his mother is definitely not keen on the idea, and refuses to let him read the books which he takes home.

Things come to a head when some of the mothers decide to seek Maurice’s help in contacting the spirits of their own dead children. Jacques is apparently not too impressed by this, and it turns out that their mother’s isolationism might well have been implemented for extremely good reasons. It is a bit of an odd animal, and takes some getting used to: it’s an Italian production, set in France, with an almost-entirely English cast, and apparently shot on video, lending it an artificial, somewhat televisual feel that reminded me of Sapphire & Steel. It probably shouldn’t work, yet managed to overcome the obstacles and deliver something that’s generally successful and occasionally quite chilling.

The FX are limited, and occasionally the CGI is not very good, but the way in which they are used is nicely done. I think it’s the performances that are the key: again, there’s something slightly-stilted about them (Belcher in particular), but given most of the characters are off-center, it’s not inappropriate. The cinematography is excellent – there’s one shot, looking down on Maurice as he rides on a swing, that was just jaw-dropping – and the setting is also very effective. I’m not certain the ending quite makes sense on every level, and there’s a cat-fight which I could have done without (may be the first time I’ve ever said that!) but these are fairly minor quibbles for a film that hits more targets than it misses.