Shadow Island has everything it needs to be good except for the knowledge of how to pace itself out. We have an initially intriguing mystery, a creepy, isolated island, plenty of atmosphere and a decently eerie musical score, but the film is let down by a groggy pace and lack of momentum for much of its runtime.
It’s decently directed and the ultimate twists are attention-grabbing, but in failing to build up tension or anticipation towards them, Shadow Island sadly winds up as a film that didn’t live up to its potential.
What’s The Story of Shadow Island?
David (Johan L. Heinstedt) comes home to discover the research of his long-dead father Gustav that he was conducting on a faraway island. Hoping to get to know his dad a little better, David heads to said island where the only other inhabitant is a psychology student named Sarah (Hanne Mathisen Haga). As the two become closer and David starts to discover the island’s hidden secrets, he may find more than he bargained for.
Like a comedian who takes too long to get to their punchline, Shadow Island goes on far longer than it should before revealing its sinister trick. The result is a film that’s bathed in a creepy atmosphere and has solid cinematography throughout, but with most of its discoveries lacking the urgency or momentum you would expect, its 90-minute runtime feels longer than it actually is. The initial mystery of what David’s father was doing alone on the island provides a fine setup, but once David and Sarah meet, the film is unable to balance their growing dynamic with the central mystery that should be driving it.
The performances by Heinstedt and Haga are fine enough and they have passable chemistry together, but we don’t learn much about Sara and the relationship that develops between them feels rushed given that the events transpire over the course of a month (kept track of by a convenient day counter). The unfortunate thing about this counter is that several days go by in the film’s world where the only thing indicating something is afoot is the soundtrack and cinematography constantly telling us something is afoot.
A Series of Ups And Downs
Another issue at play here is that we don’t get much information about exactly what David’s father was initially researching. We’re told that David is a blooming meteorologist and that he’s studying the same thing his father did, but once on the island, that detail is never brought up again. We do learn a backstory about the father, but since we only ever see the two together in blink-and-you’ll-miss-them dreams David has a few times, an emotional connection between the two characters isn’t established.
To the film’s credit, most of the seemingly disconnected breadcrumbs do line up by its end (with one reveal I never would have guessed), but I felt the film’s pacing dragged on in the middle getting to those revelations. When act 3 does come around, that longstanding tension finally gets capitalized on a little bit for the climax.
It’s a surprisingly well-thought-out twist that I wish the film had revealed earlier so it could have played around more with the new element it introduces, but I can happily say that the movie saves its best hand for last. It’s a frustrating case of a film that had a good story and twists up its sleeve but didn’t know how to execute them to their highest potential. The acting is fine, the music is eerily atmospheric, and the direction is solid enough, but the script here needed another pass to buff up the pacing and balance of its central mystery and relationship.
The Final Verdict
Shadow Island is a somewhat frustrating miss because of how potentially intriguing its individual pieces are. The two leads carry the film on their backs, the ultimate twists are good on paper and the cinematography and music succeed in giving you the hebe-jeebies, but in being unable to properly balance and pace out its romance and mystery elements, Shadow Island is a film that will likely be left in the shadows.
2 out of 5 stars (has some good moments but is overall bad)
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