Irene Falvey takes refuge in the psychological thriller Shadows, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

Shot in Wicklow, Shadows, directed by Carlo Lavagna, is a striking otherworldly film which explores the themes of environmental crisis, fear and survival. It is clear from the offset that the world of this film is far removed from life as we know it. Rather than providing us with a clear cut before and after of how our protagonists came to live in this situation the architecture of this world is revealed slowly, bit by bit, keeping us somewhat in the dark. The film is framed principally through the view of Alma, a young teenage girl who lives only with her sister Alex and their mother in an abandoned hotel in the woods. The lack of clarity about their world is what wills our need to understand the construct of this seemingly dystopian world; all we can really gather is that daylight is dangerous, meaning they are only safe under the cover of night. 

The contrast between interior and exterior makes up the DNA of this film. This displaced trio have forged out a living in a disused hotel and manage to get by self-sufficiently. Commodities such as technology let alone the luxury of a supermarket are alien to these two teenagers; a teaspoon of homegrown home-grown honey and playing with slingshots being the only joys they know. We are unaware of how much time they have spent inside this hotel, but they demonstrate a foggy awareness of the before and after. Alma paints a city on the wall of their bedroom, an act of hope for the future or perhaps a deep-seated memory. An argument arises about whether there were trees in cities or not; their mother admits that yes there were trees, but they were just crammed in, showing a disdain for how things operated in the recent modern past. Outside of the hotel they are surrounded by lush overgrown forest which they are dependent on for their survival, but the outside becomes a place of fear; the woods represent at once the unknown and also the certain danger of the sunlight. 

The confinement of the hotel begins to take its toll and the interior space becomes just as threatening as the woods. The dynamics of their unit begin to shift. In particular we start to see the differences in character between Alma and Alex develop; while Alex is daring and strong willed, Alma is more careful and considerate. These differences in character become exacerbated as their mother, who starts off as seeming strict/resourceful becomes increasingly intimidating and ultimately abusive both physically and mentally. While Alma caves under the weight of her tyranny, Alex can’t stand the oppressive atmosphere any longer and Alma must choose whether to brave the outside world with Alex or endure the control of their mother. 

This film astutely weaves in fundamental human experiences -fear, survival, love- into an eerily thrilling narrative which scares us into thinking about the potential struggle of our collective future. It is centred around one of society’s most unifying fears-environmental breakdown- yet examines this situation through three personal responses- a need for control (the mother), defiance (Alex) and fear (Alma). The world created in this film is at once harrowing and hopeful; the bond between Alex and Alma is a reminder of the strength that can be gained from true connection no matter how dire the situation.  In a nutshell Shadows is a dark coming of age narrative that only 21st century kids can truly comprehend, conquering not only the fear of your parents but also learning to cope with the imminent breakdown of the natural world. 

Shadows screened on 23rd 2021 July at Galway Film Fleadh 2021.


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