Meet Dr. Lazar Perkov. He’s got problems. He has a philandering chain-smoking wife and a whiny, ungrateful child. He is a fine doctor, yet no one respects him. He is overshadowed by the success of his overbearing, bourgeois parents. He was in a severe car accident last year, and has not mentally recovered. He sees dead people, and they are so pesky. They haunt him, with the consistent request to “Have respect. Return what’s not yours.” He spends most of his late nights — and what seems to be half of the film — wandering around his gloomy, blue-hued apartment building asking “Who’s there?” Worst of all, he’s trapped within a tired thriller.
Despite the subtitles, candid sex and gothic Macedonian setting, Shadows is a hackneyed horror film more reminiscent of an artless American knock-off than a truly enigmatic European original. Replete with prophetic dogs, haggard gypsy women, blurry photographs, shrieking children and murky camera gels, Milcho Manchevski’s film is only useful as a rolodex of standard horror iconography.
The only angle with a bit of interest is the implication of a nation’s guilty past, but this is no Caché. Any allegorical underpinning is brushed aside to make room for simplistic themes (remorse, religion, sexuality, death, life, the afterlife — take your pick) and a risible depiction of mysticism. Whenever the narrative starts to exhaust its repetitive cycle, a boozy, mustached employee of Lazar’s mother pops up, swigging beer and spitting out ancient beliefs about the “hungry” spirits of the dead. These ponderous monologues have all the depth and insight into the living dead that Casper tackled with its concept of a ghost’s “unfinished business.”
The denouement stumbles along as if the ending wasn’t telegraphed throughout the preceding 110 minutes. Banking on vague notions more than ambiguity, it’s clear that the title refers to its thematic and stylistic fuzziness more than the reflections that haunt the disheveled doctor.