Dystopian and topical as hell, “In the Shadow of the Moon” lacks nothing to be a science fiction film that “speaks to our times.”
It’s a murder mystery that holds our interest long after the mystery — mysteries — have revealed themselves to us, if not our intrepid hero.
Still, the film’s failings, knocked out by two first-produced-film screenwriters, connect to its perceived strengths in ways that are just too pat to ignore.
The viewer is always two steps ahead of it, and it’s SO topical, speaks so directly to America on the cusp of an impeachment, as to (hopefully) be instantly dated, holding little interest for future generations of Netflix streamers.
Boyd Holbrook is Tommy, a Philly cop whose wife (Rachel Keller) is expecting a child just as he hunts for a way off the graveyard shift. “Detective’s just around the corner,” he reassures her on the night that a little slice of Hell breaks loose in Philly, in 1988.
A bus driver, a concert pianist and a short order cook die, each in gruesome fashion — their brains bleeding out from their orifices.
Officer Lockhart (Holbrook, of “Logan” and “The Predator”) arm-twists his partner (estimable screen vet Bokeem Woodbine) into ignoring the chain of command and chasing the clues that connect these deaths on a single night.
That leads them to the mysterious “black woman in a blue hoodie.” And this wily escape artist and trained fighter (Cleopatra Coleman of TV’s “Last Man on Earth”), with her gadget for putting punctures in her victims, gives away the game.
Or rather she does via the script’s opening scene. Usually, you can mention anything up to the one third to halfway through point of a movie and not be guilty of a “spoiler.” Not here. The prologue and our first hard look at the “villain” are blunt, obvious “tells.”
Opening her mouth finishes the job.
“Hello, Thomas. Is this where it happens?”
Lockhart and his partner Maddux get their promotions to detective, and then nine years later, the same crap hits the fan, with a killer sporting the same MO.
The now-grizzled detectives ignore the Cameron-esque warnings of a physicist (Rudi Dharmalingam) who speaks of the same “Moon” of the film’s purloined title — the same as a fine documentary about the Apollo program — and get deeper into the mystery, with more victims to connect to the original crimes.
And this continues to happen every nine years as this “epic” tale unfolds.
Director Jim Mickle did the little-seen horror movie “We Are What We Are” and does entirely too little here to hide his cards. “Moon” manages to throw a feint or two at us in its opening act, and Mickle stages and shoots a couple of really good chases. The first act is far and away the best act of the movie. Pacing is a problem exacerbated by the film’s easily solved Big Mystery.
The casting pays off, with Holbrook and Woodbine in a battle of wits against Lockhart’s brother-in-law, a detective (“Dexter’s” Michael C. Hall) on the force who lets two beat cops beat him to the crime-solving punch.
And if you’re a genre fan, as I am, you’ll stick around even if the 110 minute movie shows you “the future” before 30 minutes have passed.
Despite my relief that my “Oh hell, this isn’t about vampires, is it?” fear was unfounded, I still found “In the Shadow of the Moon” a watchable failure, at best.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, violence
Cast: Boyd Holbrook, Cleopatra Coleman, Bokeem Woodbine, Michael C. Hall
Credits: Directed by Jim Mickle, script by Geoff Tock, Gregory Weidman. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:55