In the Shadows
14 Dec 2021
A masked stranger struggles to escape a malevolent forest shrouded in darkness.
Minimalism is the order of the day for Jack Sambrook’s experimental film: a shoestring budget short about a faceless person – though wearing a paper mask drawn with dispirited countenance – attempting to escape an evil forest before its insidious voice consumes them. But don’t be fooled; minimalism does not mean simple here. In just under 5 minutes, Sambrook harnesses the power of this natural environment to make a powerful analogy about the inescapable character of mental suffering, transforming the cliched “spooky” forest into a battleground for internal conflict.
“You’re nothing, you’re nothing!”, the forest cries – one whisper amongst a thousand others. Its poisonous tone intoxicated on a desire for human misery. This is the opening line to Sambrook’s deeply stifling In the Shadows, a film that recalls Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist the way flora is anthropomorphized into a living, breathing organism fuelled by its malign motives. Dizzying, warping camera work – executed deftly by James Walker – echoes Sam Raimi’s Evil dead, giving diabolical shape and life to this unseen antagonist.
But most impressive here is Sambrook’s talent for worldbuilding: each constituent of this malevolent woodland moves like a hivemind; a homogenised mass of wickedness hellbent on draining the vigour from its helpless victim. Though underexposed and clamouring for more light, these dark set pieces contribute an urgency to escape.
In the Shadows is not merely a visual triumph, however; the film is underscored by a nauseatingly dissonant sound design evoking terror in a similar way to infrasound – the so-called fear frequency that renders humans a shivering wreck. A glitchy electronic score throbs in terror as the masked stranger trudges over fallen branches; leaves crackle like burning flesh; a viscous stream of consciousness screams: “you should die!” – the sum of these parts adds up to an insane pell-mell of horrifying discordance.
This is accomplished DIY filmmaking: that cinematic school of thought which taps into the human urge to create; to elicit emotion in a way that illuminates the world around us – in this case, one shrouded in darkness.
For all its dramatic invention, the film is adept at showing – rather than telling – the experience of mental anguish in raw, visceral form: echoes of grief, loss and sorrow symbolised within the voice of the villainous holt – and its representation as an interminably pursuant antagonist – offer a visual explanation of what it might feel like to suffer under the inescapable dictates of the psyche. Sambrook approaches this subject with an apt combination of colour and care.