I was recently asked to take a look at a micro-budget British Crime Thriller called Chasing Shadows, written and directed by Aoun Khan. The movie’s currently in the final stages of post-production, so the version I saw is still some way off the finished article, but a few small tweaks aside and it was essentially all there. So I pulled up a chair and hunkered down for 84 minutes of gritty crime noir.
Here are my first impressions of Chasing Shadows.
Chasing Shadows is set for a limited theatrical release in North America this summer, followed by a DVD and VOD release later in 2019.
In a nutshell
An inexperienced and already washed-up detective battles with a suppressed painkiller addiction while trying to track down a serial killer.
Who’s it for?
The movie is rated 15 and justifiably so as some scenes are fairly gruesome. Not one for the kids, anyway.
Who’s in it?
Cengiz Dervis plays Henry, the aforementioned gloomy detective. Julie Rose Smith plays his wife Lyla, while the role of Max (why does nobody have a surname here) is taken on by Lloyd Sparsi. Faye Sewell, Kevin Golding and Alex Reece comprise the rest of the main cast.
The good stuff
For a “micro-budget” crime thriller, I think this film actually punches above its weight on plenty of occasions. Khan’s direction is largely quite accomplished, with effective use of light and camera work throughout. The film’s score is also strong and lends itself to the dark and brooding tone Khan was clearly shooting for.
Any more action-oriented sequences in the movie are executed well, with a foot-chase between two of the principal characters a particular technical highlight (though it very nearly goes on too long). Some shots were quite haunting, too, especially those centred on the serial-killer moments in the film – lots of deep red, shadows and unsettling angles.
In terms of acting, I found Sparsi’s portrayal of Max intriguing. I liked the idea of a serial killer who was devilishly handsome and charming (nothing new there, really) who lapses into moments of homicidal mania without ever really letting his mask slip. The film ends up poised for a potential sequel, which I’d be interested in seeing if Max remains the lead antagonist.
The not so good stuff
While I found Khan’s direction admirable, I was less enamoured with his writing ability. The story, firstly, is a pretty by-the-books serial killer narrative – if you haven’t figured out the entire plot within the first 15 minutes, you’re just not really trying. Nothing really jumped out at me as surprising, and each character fit far too comfortably into their respective stereotypes: Detective With Personal Demons, Nagging Wife, Charming Killer, Angry Cop Boss, etc. With the exception of Sergeant Emily Banks (who was just weird enough to be memorable) and Max in fits and bursts, the characterisation of the remaining players was fairly two-dimensional. I’d definitely seen that leading character detective before – I didn’t need to see him again, especially when he looked as though he’d just woken up in every scene. I also wasn’t sure if Max’s dual accounts of how he received his facial scar were a homage to The Dark Knight or just a casual rip-off.
The poor writing extended to (and was perhaps most glaringly obvious in) the dialogue. Some of the exchanges between characters were so painful I felt as though George Lucas had written them, and it was clear the actors were at times struggling to deliver their lines with any real conviction. On the flip side of that negative, however, was the positive that any scenes with little or no dialogue further amplified Khan’s good directorial skills.
I’ll aim a final criticism at some of the sound in the film, though I expect this will be improved before the final product is unveiled. Some of the off-screen characters sounded very muffled during conversations, and the final voiceover sequence was nearly incomprehensible at times. Again, though, I assume this will be rectified in post-production.
The bottom line
Chasing Shadows is an admirable first-time effort from Aoun Khan and certainly worth a watch, if you enjoy this genre. Any inadequacies in writing are largely balanced out with good direction and score, though as a writer myself, I struggle to look beyond the improper execution of words. I’d be interested to see what a film directed by Khan and written by someone else would turn out like, though – definitely one to watch in future.
Verdict: (3 / 5)