‘In the Shadow of the Moon’ desperately tries to be good

By Chic DiCiccio

“In the Shadow of the Moon” is an entry into the rare science fiction-police noir thriller-time travel mystery-social commentary genre. It’s so rare, this Netflix production could be the first of its kind. It’s also a convoluted, overwrought, overwritten and lazily directed B-movie that spirals into nonsense the longer that it goes. 

Boyd Holbrook in “In the Shadow of the Moon.”
Photo courtesy of Netflix/42

The treatment from screenwriters Gregory Weidman and Geoff Tock had to be better than the final product. The interesting premise revolves around a series of deaths that occur to seemingly random people every nine years in the Philadelphia area. And no, these don’t coincide with Philadelphia Phillies playoff appearances. 

The promising story begins in 1988 as Philly police officer Thomas Lockhart (Boyd Holbrook) kicks off his night shift by preparing his very pregnant wife breakfast. Thomas and his partner (the always underused Bokeem Woodbine) visit three different crime scenes where each of the victims died via severe and gruesome brain hemorrhaging. They all share a common puncture wound on the back of their necks, much to the chagrin of Thomas’ police detective brother-in-law, Holt (Michael C. Hall, who has never recovered from the last season of “Dexter”). 

The night does not end well for anyone, in particular Thomas’ wife and the assassin (Cleopatra Coleman). The movie then shifts to 1997 amid police brutality protests and the now single father Thomas, who has become a detective. The assassin appears in security camera footage, which sets Thomas on an obsessive path to understanding what really happened back in 1988. 

The initial 45 minutes of “In the Shadow of the Moon” really does suck you in and play out as a good, if not great, police thriller. But then, characters start talking. And talking. Then, they do some more talking. Once the setting moves to 2006, it flies completely off the rails. 

An exceptionally poor and boring car chase completely bogs down the movie and reminds you that this is indeed a low budget Netflix production desperately trying to be an M. Night Shyamalan movie. 

Poor Boyd Holbrook is tasked with convincing audiences that this once buttoned up, smart policeman turns into an unstable, long haired and bearded conspiracy nut in a matter of nine years. Holbrook has screen presence and charisma but his turn into Full Rust Cohle, from “True Detective,” is simply not believable. How can we believe he goes off the deep end in 2006 when he was barely wading in the baby pool in 1988? Sure, people change and some change so much over time that it produces horrific results. Maybe that’s the point that director Jim Mickle is trying to make with “In the Shadow of the Moon,” but it’s lost due to flat out poor storytelling and melodrama that engulfs the final 30 minutes. The ending is so heavy handed that Mickle and his writers have to add a truly horrendous narration in hopes that audiences get their “what does it all mean” moment. 

Like many Netflix productions, “In the Shadow of the Moon” comes with much hype and little to be desired in the end product. The studio has yet to really score a critical and audience hit, but that should change with the upcoming “El Camino” and “The Irishman.” At least, those executives better hope it does.