Michael Winnick’s “Shadow Puppets” has a killer premise, one of those high-concept pitches that, had I heard it, would have bought in a second. The plot of “Puppets” is similar to films like Vincenzo Natali’s “Cube”, or more recently, the Jim Caviezel picture “Unknown”. It concerns seven strangers who wake up in an abandoned facility somewhere underground, with no memories of who they are, or how they got there. Their only choice is to search for a way out; to make matters worst, there seems to be a supernatural creature lurking in the shadows, and it likes the taste of human blood.
DVD sales for “Shadow Puppets” should be reasonably brisk, given the presence of three notable genre names: Jolene Blalock, fresh from “Enterprise”, is the female lead, assisted by James Marsters, Spike of “Buffy” fame, and the always enjoyable Tony Todd, doing another one of his off-the-wall psycho characters. Winnick keeps the film moving along at a nice pace, opening with Blalock’s Kate locked in a brightly lit cell, from which she wanders out to meet her fellow inmates. Are they prisoners? Mental patients? Or were they the product of some awful experiment gone awry? And why exactly are they all dressed in skimpy underoos?
Unfortunately for the seven strangers (an eighth person is found in a chair, brain dead), they were victims of a mind wipe that has cleaned out all memories of their identities, but left behind whatever skill sets they possessed. Which doesn’t really come in all that handy when a black cloud apparition begins stalking them, taking shape and killing them one by one. As their identities are revealed through various discoveries, it soon becomes clear that one of them is not whom they claim to be, and that uncovering the deception before the creature gets to them might be the only way to stay alive.
Written and directed by Michael Winnick, “Shadow Puppets” maintains an excellent storyline right up to the final 20 minutes or so, when the film invariably has to swallow a little bit of cheese in order to provide a, to put it mildly, silly conclusion. Up until that point, “Puppets” is a nicely paced and acted movie, with plenty of thrills and chills to set the table for an excellent ending. The film never reaches that promise land, helped in no small part by a ridiculously rendered “shadow creature” that is likely to elicit giggles in the audience instead of fear. Am I really supposed to be afraid of this thing, with its Predator POV shots, growling and knife soundtrack? If the creature is made purely of abstract darkness, why does it even generate sound to begin with?
But nevermind all that.
“Shadow Puppets” has enough good things going for it in the early parts to wrestle a recommendation from me. It’s an engaging film for much of its running time, with a fine effort by Jolene Blalock, who carries the film like a champ. (And yes, she does look fine in that barely-there undies. See pictures.) James Marsters, sans fangs, does well as Jack, even though the script gives Jack way too little to do until the Third Act. Marc Winnick as Charlie and Diahnna Nicole Baxter as Stacy provide the extra potential bodycount fodder, while Natasha Alam oozes sex as a slightly oft-kilter survivor who may not be who she claims.
I can already see “Shadow Puppets” being promoted as an Sci Fi Channel Original Movie. It’s got all the staples of the cable channel’s M.O.: horror mixed with sci-fi, creature action, a moderate production budget, and easily identifiable genre names. And it’s not as if the film is too violent, or indeed too gory, to show on basic cable. I don’t foresee a lot of editing, as the film is relatively tame. I’d slap it with a PG-13 if not for a couple of violent stabbings and nudity by Alam during a pool scene.
If you get a chance to catch “Shadow Puppets” on DVD, do so.
Michael Winnick (director) / Michael Winnick (screenplay)
CAST: Jolene Blalock … Kate
Tony Todd … Steve
James Marsters … Jack
Marc Winnick … Charlie
Natasha Alam … Amber
Diahnna Nicole Baxter … Stacy
Richard Whiten … Dave
Jennie Ford … Melissa