Bram Stoker’s Shadowbuilder
Studio Home Entertainment (Sterling)
Cast: Michael Rooker
Extras: Commentary Track
A renegade archbishop of the Catholic Church is holding a heretic ceremony in a hidden cellar with a few disciples, summoning a demon in an effort to bring Darkness to the world. Without their knowing the demon materializes, shrouded in shadow and strikes to take a victim before they know it. At the same time a man with two nine millimeter guns break into the room opening fire on everyone inside, killing the Archbishop and his remaining men. The demon however quickly escapes through a window, being nothing but a dark shadow.
Studying the artifacts in the room, Vassey (Michael Rooker) can easily see that he came too late. The demon has been freed and is now on the hunt for the soul of a little boy.
The demon descends on small upstate New York town to find the boy and wreaks havoc on the inhabitants, driving them crazy and turning them into murderers. The satanic shadow is felt everywhere as he tries to get a hold of the boy. In the midst of this unleashed horror Vassey is trying to shelter and protect the boy’s saint-like soul but the "Shadowbuilder" is quickly growing in strength.
The plot of "Shadowbuilder" might not be exceedingly original and the film itself borrows quite freely from other existing genre movies. A number of the sequences, shots and plot devices you will see might strike you familiar from films like "Prince Or Darkness", "The Frighteners", "Omen", "Wishmaster" and many more. Now, borrowing from the best is not always a bad thing and "Shadowbuilder" does so quite well. It creates a creepy atmosphere that relies on the visual quality of the images and the soundtrack for the most part. The film does not contain overly exhibitive computer generated special effects and the ones you can see in the film are unobtrusive and well integrated despite the film’s rather low, less than $4 mio budget. It is nice to see a film that uses classic optical effects and atmospheric production designs in favor of extensive in-your-face computer graphics. It gives the film a very rooted flair, somewhat reminiscent to horror films, like "Phantasm" for example, where the weirdness of the story, the characters and the low-key approach created an unsettling and convincing film. And that is clearly "Shadowbuilder’s" strength. It s not an extremely flashy movie but it tells a solid story creating a number of tense moments and with its good direction, it also creates some very nice, atmospheric scenes. This whole low key approach came as a complete surprise to me, especially since the film marks Jamie Dixon’s directorial debut. Dixon has actually been working in the special effects industry before, on films like "Terminator 2", "True Lies" and "Titanic", and was also responsible for the creation of the morphing effect in Michael Jackson’s "Black Or White" music video. Dixon used his experience in the field to make sure the effects are not too obtrusive and perfectly executed instead of throwing his weight in to create yet another effects-laden film. Especially the dissolving black mist is an effect that is used with great effect, giving the shadows substance and volume.
Sterling Home Entertainment has released "Shadowbuilder" on a single sided disc, containing the film in a <$PS,fullscreen> presentation. The film has never been shown in theaters and as such is, what is called, a direct-to-video release, which explains the fact that there is no <$PS,letterboxed> version. Sterling have created a high quality disc with this film, because the image is sharp and very well defined. There are hardly any compression artifacts to be seen, despite some dot crawl in extremely dark scenes, and color reproduction is extremely vivid and natural without <$chroma,chroma noise>. The film transfer contains solid and very deep blacks while maintaining good shadow details, even in most of the dimly lit and nighttime scenes of the film.
"Shadowbuilder" was fun to watch and highly entertaining. It clearly reminded me of more traditional horror films, where characters and cinematic atmosphere is used to great effect, than the modern day computer generated special effects orgies. It is rather restrained in its display of blood and gore, too, making it a movie of choice for people who do not measure the quality of a horror film by the gallons of blood shed on screen.