In the Shadow It Waits at Electric Dreams Festival Online
There are clever ideas lurking in the format of In the Shadow It Waits, the latest project from “immersive” director Michael Beets. The concept of a “live” horror film, whose circumstances feed off the isolation and online attendance of its captive audience, seems rife for exploitation right now. But any atmosphere is squandered in this technically seamless sequence of stale jump scares.
Audience members are dared to immerse themselves early on. Switching off the lights, putting the sound up and full screen on certainly draws you into the story’s setting of a late-night Zoom call. This initially innocuous meeting of bored or anxious or sexually frustrated twenty-somethings soon takes a nasty turn. When each of the attendees click on a dark internet game, it mysteriously unleashes shadowy forces upon them. Beets and his cast (Nalani Wakita, Robert Pham, Eddie Orton, Vessela Karadjova, S.C.Wilson and Naomi Plucke) pull off a remarkably accomplished production that seamlessly builds pace and tension over its hour-long running time, despite being performed and edited live across several different Australian states.
While characterisation is thin (as you’d expect from stock-character-fodder in this genre) the cast do make them as convincing as possible, even if they inevitably descend into whimpering, gasping and screaming at a webcam. There’s even unexpected comedy when the underlying sexual tension reaches a ludicrous breaking point between a certain threesome. This soap opera-like silliness often hides the subtle technical skills of the cast, smoothly overseen and converged by Beets’s live editorial powers. However, despite the production’s technological competence, In the Shadow It Waits could be filmed and watched conventionally without really marring the “experience”. Its lack of audience interactivity reduces the impact that this format could have.
It isn’t scary either… not unless, as a horror fan, you’ve lived under a rock for the last 25 years. Genuine fear is sapped away by Beets’s reliance on overused genre tricks and tropes from recent horror cinema (with heavy influences from The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, The Ring, The Conjuring and Us). The director-writer also seems to draw from internet-generated urban legends, especially the “Momo Challenge”, but also the “Slender Man” mythology (in particular, DeLarge and Wagner’s Marble Hornets YouTube series). The film’s derivativeness telegraphs the frights well in advance, stymieing any creepily intimate paranoia of the darkness in the audience’s own homes. The odd special effect is surprising, but this is less to do with being unsettled than admiring that the cast could generate it in a live performance.
Michael Hough’s uninspired soundscape of whines, shuffles, scrapes and hackneyed, straining violin strings doesn’t terrify either. Attempts at situational irony by referencing horror memes or the occasional eye-rolling remark about upcoming scare tactics try to cover for the lack of thrills and chills. “I hate jump scares. I really hope it’s not a jump scare,” Pham’s Pat says with trepidation early on. Yet, it turns out that jump scares are the only thing waiting in this online horror show.
In the Shadow It Waits is available to view online from 1st August until 8th August 2020. For further information or to book visit the show’s website here.