Published Sep 26, 2019Netflix's latest feature tells the story of a detective's obsession with a killer, but it could've been more.
Shot in Ontario, In the Shadow of the Moon is genre-defying. Written by Gregory Weidman and Geoffrey Tock, directed by Jim Mickle, it begins a hard-boiled noir, with slick Philadelphia streets, cops working overtime and Chinese take-out. But it's also part-police procedural, part-sci-fi.
Boyd Holbrook (Narcos) plays Locke, a detective whose wife dies in childbirth the same night in 1988 that he encounters the killer Rya (Cleopatra Coleman). The movie follows Locke over the years as he tries to understand the connection between his wife and Rya, pausing on the same day every nine years. Time is traversed, detective fiction turns sci-fi, and Locke becomes more unhinged and isolated; Holbrook portrays Locke's diligence and dogged obsession convincingly.
The film's focus is Locke's obsession, but everything that makes it intriguing is glossed over, or relayed almost perfunctorily. A man's preoccupation with his work, which alienates him from his loved ones, is something we've seen time and again. But a female time-travelling vigilante killer, a scientist who's inspired by and also predicts the technology she'll use, police brutality, race and the white supremacists that imperil the world? It's all worthwhile. Holding the gaze a bit longer on even a couple of these plotlines would've made for a more exciting, intelligent, less solipsistic film.
Meanwhile, the film's women are giving birth, dying or both. Rya, the film's most fascinating character, is smashed to pieces in the first act. What little screen time she has is in the shadow of the image of what she'll look like when dead: her torso severed from the rest of her, lying on an autopsy table, her blood splattered throughout a subway station all the way back in 1988.
The film — obsessed with Locke in the way Locke is obsessed with Rya — doesn't do its women, nor its story, justice.