- Wide Release
- Director: Timothy Bond
- Written by: Justin Stanley, Eric Miller
- Running Time: 95 minutes
- Language: English
- MPAA Rating: PG-13 - Parents Strongly Cautioned
- Cast: Eric Roberts, Sherilyn Fenn, Dean Stockwell, Brendon Ryan Barrett, Andrew Prine, Chris McCarty, Tom Poster, Valerie Swift, Hans Howes, David Bowe, Lisa Dinkins, Treva Tegtmeier, Benjamin Brown, Ben Slack, Kate Atkinson, Robert Berger
Ever since I was a teenager, I've been fascinated with the paranormal – all aspects of it, from bigfoot to time slips to everything in between. However, it's ufology that has most held my attention more than any other para-phenomenon, partially because I think it's an interesting topic with serious ramifications for mankind if true, and partially because of some strange experiences I've had of my own that I've yet to get my head around. The ufo field has many specialized areas for which to investigate; crop circles, cattle mutilation, abductions and of course Men In Black. Having purchased numerous books on the topic including Timothy Beckley's UFO Silencers and Jim Keith's Casebook for the Men In Black, I'm convinced that there's more to the topic than just some crazy old coots spouting off at the trap. Jim Keith's strange death following the publishing of the book has only added fuel to the fire. For the believers, it was confirmation; for non-believers it was just another coincidence in a sea of coincidences associated with ufology. In late 2006, I had the bizarre pleasure of actually talking to someone who claimed to have had an honest-to-god MIB experience. I believed this person. Considering that the Quinte area, my stomping ground, is a hotbed for ufo activity, and has at least two abductions recorded, one of which garnered some national attention, I'm convinced that shit happens that can't always be explained away with conventional science.
Like the color of their eyes (always hidden under dark sunglasses), the etymology of the Men In Black is up for debate; although by all accounts it dates back to the 1800's (like out of an Ossorio movie, black-hooded figures riding across the countryside); and, if you believe the stories, everyone from Hitler to John F. Kennedy are rumoured to have had personal experiences with these shadowy fedora-wearing agents of mystery. While most of it is conjecture, the notion of a rogue group, possibly an off-shoot-black-project of a second-tier government, or maybe, possibly, extraterrestrials in disguise, it's easy to see why Men In Black might have become a topic of interest amongst conspiracy groups already distrustful of the government (or a shadow government, as it were). The fact that the MIB have turned up all over the world, sometimes on matters not ufo related (in a national story, an innocuous bigfoot encounter in a Pennsylvania trailer park was followed up by a MIB visit) and sometimes before full scale tragedies (residents of Chernobyl experienced an influx of MIB sightings in the weeks leading up to the meltdown) and even last year in Washington, D.C., construction workers found themselves in the company of ominous Men In Black during a routine dig (this one made the LA Times, amongst other major newspapers). Even hoaxsters have had experiences with them, as evidenced a few years ago in England when a crop circle hobbyist found himself standing in a field, in the wee hours of the night, being quietly observed by an ominous Man In Black on the road. The incident so alarmed him that he sought out the local newspaper to tell his story. Okay, so one must conclude that it's either the vivid imaginations of several thousand people around the world, or there's generally something to it; it's up the individual them self to figure out where they want to come down on the debate.
For people versed on the topic, “Shadow Men” plays like any number of actual MIB case studies – covering (and methodically staying true to) their obvious source material. Sadly, the director and writing team seem compelled to sour the film's good fortunes by tacking on a ridiculously over-the-top ending in which the film's protagonists have an OK Corral-style gunfight with hordes of seemingly indestructible MIBs. Sigh. Could the culprit for such stupidity be studio intervention? Most likely. For what it's worth, the fact that film actually attempts to keep it real (and serious), is a breath of fresh air – especially given the way Hollywood feels inclined to dumb such material down.. For me, this film has definitely earned a place alongside Richard Pepin's “The Silencers” and Philip J. Cook's “Invader” as one of the better Men In Black movies. What about “Men In Black 1” and “2” (and as of this afternoon, "3"), you ask? Yeah, what about them.
Eric Roberts and Sherilyn Fenn play Bob and Dez Wilson, a happily married couple who, on a whim, decide to take their son Andy (Brendon Ryan Barrett) up to the Nevada mountains for a weekend of roughing it and roasting marshmallows by a campfire. Apparently that's where Bob's dad took him as a child and now it's time for Andy to take in those experiences for himself. The trip doesn't get off on a very positive note, sadly. During a pit stop at an off-the-beaten-path gas station they smack into a hearty dose of cliche in the form of a bushy-haired attendant, the sci-fi equivalent the Crazy Ralph of “Friday the 13th” fame. The old codger nervously heeds them words of warning. “Bad things... Strange things happen. It's not like the movies, they got it all wrong,” he mutters. The fam, of course, choose to ignore him and off they go down the lonely highway for the beautiful seclusion of Painted Mountains, Nevada... and their future forever changed.
While Bob has fond memories of camping out under the stars, Andy isn't having it – and soon Dez is adding to the chorus to 'let's go home'. Bob's a good natured sort who begrudgingly agrees to head er' back. Even though it's getting really late, Mom and Dad decide that they'll make the trip home. And that's where things gets weird. As they slowly snake their way down the expanse of mountains, a light emerges out from the blackness of the sky. With Andy wide-eyed in the backseat, Bob and Dez quietly speculate what it could be. Their first guess is an aircraft. But as the object performs manoeuvres not capable of any conventional plane, it dons on them that it's either some kind of military experiment or * or * it's a ufo. They chortle at the idea of a ufo, as any sane person would. Before long the light is bearing down on them, aggressively forcing them off the road and over an embankment. The couple are knocked unconscious in the crash. As we pull away from the scene of the accident, we take notice of the fact that Andy's handheld camera was flipped to *rec* during the collision. The light descends and soon strange humanoid creatures are emerging from the object. A shot of the dashboard clock suddenly shifts ahead two hours. Suddenly, Bob and Dez are shaken awake by a transport which roars at them. For some reason they are in the middle of the highway. How did they get there, they wonder? Shrugging their shoulders, the couple decide to carry on, as if nothing had happened.
Back at home, Bob, Dez and Andy start to suffer the same strange dreams in which they are forcibily wheeled down a long stretch of hallway by odd big-headed large-black-eyed humanoid-type creatures. Experiments are done on them. It's all very vague and frightening and in a bid for answers, Bob and Dez seek help from the military. Within a day, strange men in black suits, fedora hats and sunglasses are standing at their door. Even though they claim to be from the military, their demeanour and bizarre overly-personal questions are the first thing to tip the couple off to the fact that these aren't your standard issue government agents. Nope, there's something quite off about them. Even the family dog, Anthrax, doesn't care for the peculiar duo, ripping apart its own doghouse to get at them. Before escorting the pair out, the senior MIB seems to appeal to their patriotic side before out-n-out threatening them. “Let me advise you, don't tell anyone,” he mutters, in a low, monotone voice.
With the Men In Black gone, low-tech Bob scrambles to figure out how to use the internet. He's on a quest for any information pertaining to little green men and saucer-shaped objects, even taking time out to incorporate his new-found interest in ufology into his marketing job. At home, Dez is suddenly dealing with a rash of persistent phone calls in which nobody seems to ever be on the other end. At school, Andy is accosted by a man dressed in black. That's enough to alert Bob to the severity of his situation and he's soon looking for help from the local police, who practically run him off the property the second he mentions the family's ufo sighting. With nowhere to turn and with the MIB visits growing more and more frequent, Bob begins to sense that those bizarre dreams might actually be memories. His paranoia increases tenfold when Dez stumbles upon Andy's videocamera – and realizes that they got the entire thing on tape. She barely gets to register it before the MIBs are smashing in their door and searching the house... Dez gets away but the family pooch isn't so lucky. Yes, they kill the dog. Afterwards, Dez, Andy and Bob pack their shit and head off in search of someone who can help. In this case, it's noted ufo investigator and author, Stan Mills (Dean Stockwell), who, upon learning of the videotape, takes the couple into his security-throttled compound in the hills. Sensing that they are sincere and believing their video-evidence to be true, Stan hips them to the direness of their situation - that they can be tracked electronically and that they are indeed in very real danger. “Your life is completely changed,” he informs a horrified Bob. We met Stan very early in the movie, having his own chilling encounter with the MIB – one that ended tragically. Cut to twenty years later, and Stan's a paranoid bad-ass, armed to the teeth, and living in a compound rigged up tighter than Fort Knox. In order to support himself and in an attempt to warn others, he has begun writing novels detailing various ufo cases in which he was personally involved. Dean Stockwell, shockingly, pulls this character off with ease – choosing to play him straight up the middle. Most often actors play these characters with their tongue planted firmly in their cheek, or as all-out loons (think Woody Harrelson in “2012”) but here Stockwell is as serious as a heart attack. The same goes for the rest of the cast, one of the film's major pluses, in my opinion.
Without giving away too much, “Shadow Men” takes its promising premise, and the emergence of the film's coolest character, and mucks it up with a bizarre revelation about the MIB, an implant, and, as I mentioned earlier, a ludicrous final showdown that so closely resembles “Night of the Living Dead” it's almost laughable. Why? Why tarnish the good stuff that came before it with such a silly, cliched, overwrought ending? As I said, studio intervention is the most likely culprit.
As a ufo buff, and a film lover, I enjoyed this film immensely. It was almost everything a film of this nature should be, in my opinion. If I was going to make an MIB movie, it would definitely look, smell and feel like “Shadow Men”. I credit partially, Timothy Bond, the director. This guy's name is attached to some of the coolest horror movies ever made, including “Happy Birthday To Me” (he wrote it), and “Deadly Harvest” (he directed it). He also directed the cult-classic, “My Pet Monster” - another fave of mine. The two writers also have some amazing credits in their filmography. While Justin Stanley was off working with two of my most cherished movie heroes, Quentin Tarantino and Jay Woelfel, on “Eddie Presley”, Eric Miller was off writing, directing and producing some of the coolest b-movies ever made; everything from “Puppet Master 3: Toulon's Revenge” to “Demons At The Door” to “Ice Spiders”. In 2007, Eric penned another very good ufo movie, “Night Skies”. The sincerity and respect he brought to that material also shows up in “Shadow Men”. Eric certainly seems to know his shit when it comes to this ufo thing, and as another 'who knows his shit' it's refreshing. The fact that the "Shadow Men" has a very film-noir vibe running through it, also impressed me. Both of these guys did their homework.
Aside from the ufo stuff, my other favourite element of the film is Bob and Dez and their relaionship. Unlike so many couples in movies, especially movies with a dramatic pretense, these two never snipe at each other... not once. Well, maybe once, but it's quick. They feel like a real couple, deeply in love and desperate to hold it together and make sense out of the non-sensical. It's always easier for writers to imbue their scripts with falsely edgy scenes in which the married couple verbally spar with each other – an attempt to create tension where there isn't any. Thankfully, Miller and Stanley never resort to any of that. Bob and Dez are like most married couples I know. They respect each other as equals (as I'm told these two actors, both in the same spot career-wise, do) and their flirty-fun feels genuine. “Eric Roberts is probably the best actor I've worked with,” Mickey Rourke told a packed auditorium in 2009, while accepting his Spirit award for “The Wrestler”, and, well, just judging by this film, he isn't kidding. Eric's subdued turn as a man desperate to resolve a situation out of his control and growing more and more paranoid with each passing second, is simply grand. His revelation that he's never fired a gun works beautifully to illuminate the film's fish-out-water subtext. Eric, along with Sherilyn Fenn (2007's “Treasure Raiders”), are easily the glue that holds this film together. It will surely be the thing that keeps even casual viewers tuned in when this shows up on HBO in the wee hours of the morning. Even critics happy to dismiss “Shadow Men” as nothing more than innocuous sci-fi trash, are forced to admit that the acting was “above par”. Fenn's work has been spotty in the past but with this, I was greatly impressed. From doting housewife to aggressive momma protecting her kin (“got another clip?”), I loved seeing her transition. Dean Stockwell is an actor who lends considerable gravitas to whatever he appears in. He's simply amazing here. He plays his character just right; slightly paranoid, brilliant and with his heart in the right place. I would gladly watch a film designed around his Stan Mills character, he's that interesting.
As I said, with the exception of the out-of-place conclusion and some corny dialogue, everything about this film is perfect. Well, near perfect. People with an interest (or a passing interest) in the topic of ufos or MIBs should keep an eye out of for this film. Huh, I wonder if this review would get Stan Mills' grade A seal of approval.