In The Shadows: A bleak dystopian tale of inconsequentiality, society and time

In The Shadows: A bleak dystopian tale of inconsequentiality, society and time
Film Review: In The Shadows is the third feature from Erdem Tepegoz, the Turkish filmmaker who earned acclaim for his debut at the 35th Moscow International Film Festival in 2013.
4 min read
12 March, 2021
German-Turkish actor Numan Acar takes the lead in the film []
Glasgow Film Festival welcomed some dystopian drama to its programme with In The Shadows, the third feature from Erdem Tepegoz. The Turkish filmmaker earned acclaim for his debut feature The Particle (Zerre), which won the main prize at the 35th Moscow International Film Festival in 2013. But now he's back on writing and directing duty to further explore the similarly bleak themes of inconsequentiality, society and time, this time through a sci-fi lens and with German-Turkish actor Numan Acar taking the lead.

The film opens ominously, in a dank and dusty coal mine where morose workers carry out their laborious duties in silence. One worker, Zait (Acar) notices a change in atmosphere as the claustrophobic space begins to rattle from a collapse that will soon engulf those in its path of destruction.

He is the protagonist of this story and the accident has flipped a switch in his brain to begin questioning everything. Why during a medical check-up is a worker with only a small ankle injury being removed from the workforce and never seen again? Who are the people delivering orders via the crackle of a sound system and why are their every move being watched through CCTV cameras located throughout the mines and factory buildings but no one in charge? What is the point of the work they are sweating so much time over each day?

When Zait's machinery suddenly stops working it's the excuse he needs to seek answers and after he contracts a mysterious illness, his solo quest to discover the true machinations behind this grim existence begins to cause a threat to the sinister infrastructure.

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As dystopian stories go, In the Shadows is one of the more grounded offerings in its depiction of a not-so-distant future where technology is rudimentary but the mysterious Big Brother-like overseers are able to wield it efficiently enough to force obedience of the zombie-like populace.

The decision to shoot in a mining town in Georgia was an apt setting for this brand of corrupted authoritarian existence that seems to nod more than a few times to the aesthetic bleakness of filmmaker Terry Gilliam's futuristic sensibilities.

Rusted metal, open wires and dilapidated homesteads paired with muted colours and low lighting enhance the murky out of time backdrop as do the drab costumes that wouldn't be out of place in an early 20th century wartime drama. 

Tepegoz doesn't offer much of an explanation as to how this dark world has come to be but that the omission only adds to the ambiguity of the story.

The meandering pace, however, is somewhat frustrating as the script doesn't really offer much plot to make progress with but it's certainly worth seeing Acar's suspicious protagonist descend further into desperation and desolation as the mental and physical excursion caused by this mission takes its toll. 

The role is certainly a change of pace for the actor whose most high profile roles have seen him play a menacing Taliban leader in Homeland, a menacing covert operative in Spider-Man: Far From Home and a menacing palace guard in the live-action remake of Aladdin. The latter film did allow Acar to show a softer side by the end but this lead role has provided the space to explore his vulnerable depths.

There's an almost boyish quality to Zait's inquisitiveness. It's understated and gentle which contrasts with his naturally powerful and assertive presence. It allows the actor to convey the wide-eyed innocence of not knowing much about the circumstances of their indentured servitude while persuasively carrying much of the film's emotional weight and intrigue. 

The 90-minute film is a great vehicle to showcase Acar's talent, and proves he is more than capable of leading a film beyond the stereotypical Hollywood side characters we're used to.

The script makes pertinent use of the key notes of dystopian fiction – rebellion against the system, surveillance culture, individuality is the enemy, lots of metal – but the journey doesn't quite excite as much as the the gritty, aesthetic world Tepegoz has realised with the help of production and costume designers Armen Ghazaryan and Fadim Üçbas.

Ultimately, In the Shadows doesn't rage against the machine as much as it seems slightly peeved with it and that makes for a far less engaging watch.

Hanna Flint is a freelance film and TV critic, writer and interviewer who writes for The Guardian, Total Film, Time Out, Syfy, Yahoo Movies, SyFy and other international outlets. 

Follow her on Twitter: @HannaFlint