10th Jan2022

‘Nightshade’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Lou Ferringo Jr., B.J. Britt, Jason Patric, Dina Meyer, James Duval, Tim Russ, Kenzie Dalton, Eryn Rea, Jaime Gallagher, Madison Russ, Chris Levine, Nick Sarando, Thyme Lewis | Written by Sarah Smith-Williams, Landon Williams | Directed by Landon Williams

Homicide Detective Ben Hays (Lou Ferrigno Jr.) has tried everything to cure his insomnia, but nothing works. To make matters worse, Ben and his partner, Detective Beckett (B.J. Britt), are hitting dead ends while investigating the murder of Randy Bell (Jason Patric). Ben reluctantly agrees to see psychiatrist Dr. Collins (Dina Meyer), who convinces him to try hypnotherapy. But as Ben’s sessions continue, so do the murders, and he begins sleepwalking and having haunting nightmares that reveal disturbing parallels to the crimes. Ben struggles to explain himself to his wife, Lucy (Kenzie Dalton), and Beckett, who knows something is wrong with his troubled partner. Sleep-deprived and desperate for answers, Ben must race against the clock to discover the cause of his afflictions, the identity of the killer, and above all, his shocking connection to the victims…

Which, in simple terms, means we spend half of this movie watching Lou Ferrigno Jr.’s Detective Hays walking around in a confused funk and then suddenly waking up in strange places – on his lawn, in the shower, in his partner Beckett’s backyard too! All the while as confused as the audience is. Well confused if you haven’t seen a myriad of similar films in the past and know exactly what the hells is going on. Or if you’ve figured everything out from the prologue!

Co-writer/director Landon Williams throws in some curve balls, tries to throw the audience off the scent and I’ll admit that he did have me questioning my own assumptions about where Nightshade was headed, with a brilliant play on the shrink/patient dynamic that almost, ALMOST, had me fooled.

Visually Nightshade looks stunning. On his IMDb page it says Williams has patented a new visual style called HDRMP, which is said to result in rich cinematic highlight and shadow detail, and if thats who he’s used here then I’m all for it becoming the norm in thrillers like this! The use off colour must be applauded too, with Nightshade make great use of the same kind of bold colour palette that Dario Argento’s Suspiria was famous for. Which is apt given the twisty noir-isn, giallo-esque, nature of the film. In fact I could see Nightshade emanating from Italy during the giallo heyday, it’s hazy dream-like complexity using facets and tropes of the genre – even down to the use of a red umbrella rather than the infamous black gloves that have marked out Italian iterations of giallo movies. Think Argento’s latter [good] work that took more influence from American cinema and you’re somewhere close.

When the reveal comes, as Sarah Smith-Williams and Landon Williams script opens up and unveils the relationship between the film and its prologue, as that first half of the film is explained – Ben’s visions, his mysterious insomnia, the waking up in strange places – Nightshade heads into a more “supernatural” territory (but no, not it the way you might suspect), one that WAS unexpected. Yes, it’s a touch left-field but in the context of what we’ve seen, what we now know about the films antagonist, it makes sense. It’s crazy yes, but in the context of the film it makes sense. Especially if you consider Nightshade as a giallo, with all that genres eccentricities.

I went into Nightshade not knowing what to expect. And I never expected an American take on a “supernatural” giallo but that’s what I got. And you know what? I thoroughly enjoyed it. Whilst I figured out who the antagonist was early on, I was still surprised by how they carried out their fiendish plan; which is something I can’t say about a lot of films these days!

****½  4.5/5

Nightshade is in in theaters and on VOD platforms across North America now, from SP Releasing.

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