Wednesday 15th October, 3.30pm – ICA
Saturday 18th October, 9pm – BFI Southbank, NFT2
Shadow Days‘ depiction of rural China is shockingly authentic, but the film is let down by over-ambitious elements of psychological horror and uneven production values that pull you out of an otherwise engrossing film.
Sporting sleek hairstyles, a variety of tattoos and even a designer goatee between them, Renwei and pregnant girlfriend Pomegranate are a typical modern couple. But on return to Renwei’s tiny rural hometown, the pair couldn’t look more out of place.
On first inspection the mountain town seems idyllic, with luscious green views in every direction and simple, generous inhabitants, but it quickly becomes clear that Renwei and Pomegranate might have been better off in the city. Renwei soon gets a job at the local department for family planning, but far from the proffering education and contraceptives, the group – led by Renwei’s dictatorial uncle – lean on forced abortions and sterilisations to meet their quota.
Directed by Zhao Dayong, Shadow Days employs a naturalistic form of filmmaking to bring the tiny mountain village to life. Untrained actors and even small children wander the streets during filming giving a natural authenticity that makes the film worryingly believable.
As the couple explore the old abandoned building that one of them used to call home, fragments of the old, mid-revolution China are brought up, including posters promoting the town’s fealty to all revolutionary action. Renwei and Pomegranate, the pair of them in their mid to late 20s, are clearly too young to remember Mao’s China, but it’s not difficult to imagine many more villages trapped in time, like this one.
The actions of the family planning clinic are harrowing to witness. It’s hard to imagine that their methods are carried out at all, but to believe they might be carried out with such cold, ruthless efficiency makes the process even more troubling.
The relationship between Renwei, Pomegranate and Renwei’s uncle is all too believable, so it’s a shame that the film is dragged down by such tawdry elements as the production values. Occasionally completely broken sound undermines the engrossing experience, while some over-the-top horror detracts immensely from the overall film.
Shadow Days release date is yet to be announced.
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Watch the trailer for Shadow Days here: