When there's light, there's shadow
Jeffrey Leach | Omaha, NE USA | 04/11/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I usually turn my nose up at any film sporting a title that begins with "Bram Stoker's..." or "H.P. Lovecraft's..." or even "Wes Craven presents..." You know what I am talking about. Any of those low budget clunkers that attempt to curry favor with horror fans by associating their bucket of slop with a famous writer or director in the genre. Hollywood and its attendant hangers-on will stop at nothing to make a buck, even if it means splashing mud all over a horror legend. I am not saying I don't watch films that bear these monikers. I do quite often. In fact, I often go out of my way to seek them out. Why, you ask, would I do such a thickheaded thing? Easy-I like watching bad movies so I can splash mud all over wannabe horror legends by writing sarcastic reviews. Sometimes, though, a glint of gold catches your eye when indulging in these types of films. "Shadowbuilder" is one of the projects saddled with Stoker's name that is well worth watching. It's not a perfect film, not by a long shot, but it's Oscar worthy compared to some of the other clinkers carrying the Lovecraft/Stoker/Craven imprint.What's "Shadowbuilder" about? Oh, just your typical unleashed from the abyss demon with the power to undo creation. A cult of nuts decides to perform a ritual calling forth a shadowbuilder so they can realize their fantastically crazy dream of ending the world as we know it. The Catholic Church knows about these guys, and decides to send a tough, gun-toting priest named Father Vassey (Michael Rooker) out to cut them down to size. Vassey arrives too late to stop the conjuring ceremony, but he does discover enough evidence at the scene to learn about the next step in the ritual. It appears that the demon needs to find a certain young boy in order to complete his mission. The boy, as it turns out, is the son of one of the men involved in the cult, and he is a very special creature. His soul is pure, completely without the sort of sin all of us carry around. Imagine a pint sized Gandhi or Jesus wearing tennis shoes, and you'll get the picture. If the shadowbuilder can subvert this holy child, he will destroy the universe. Vassey isn't about to let this happen, so he heads out to this small town in an effort to warn the residents about the evil they face. The priest must reach the boy before a solar eclipse takes place because that is when the shadowbuilder must act.The shadowbuilder arrives in town in a heartbeat largely due to his ability to travel at ultra fast speed through dark sewers and at night. The demon cannot travel in daylight, not yet anyway, because he is too weak. In very short order the dark one kills a local deputy, the doctor who attempts an autopsy on the corpse, and a few other unfortunate souls. As the eclipse nears the demon grows stronger, eventually gaining so much power that light sources cannot harm him any longer. As the shadowbuilder seeks out his youthful victim, he has a little fun around town. All of the townspeople eventually go nuts due to their exposure to the demon. An old man kills his loving spouse with an axe, a woman gyrates wildly on top of a statue in the town square, and the rest of the citizens start killing each other off. Father Vassey, the town sheriff, the holy child, and a town nut played by Tony Todd end up barricaded in a house as the town goes crazy around them. There's a final showdown in a church, tricked up with lots of heavy special effects, that works quite well for a straight to video (DVD?) production.The best thing about "Shadowbuilder" isn't the shadowy demon (although the creature does look good) or even the plot. Actually, the movie is about as formulaic as they come, with a powerful demon that seems unstoppable, a respectably high body count, and some philosophical mumbo jumbo about the end of the world. What does work in the movie falls largely on the shoulders of the always reliable Michael Rooker as Father Vassey. Rooker, who came to prominence as a result of his stellar turn in the gruesome "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer," does an effective job as a gun toting priest turned assassin for the Lord. Despite the fact that the movie almost ruins his character with the obligatory "man of the cloth has a crisis of faith" subplot, Rooker manages to elevate the film above the merely average. Here's a priest who uses laser scopes on this pistols, swears, and even uses his fists when needed. He'll even sass a higher up in the Church when things don't go his way. Not since the karate chopping priest in Peter Jackson's "Dead Alive" have we seen such a no nonsense padre take on evil with his bare hands. Rooker's performance alone elevates "Shadowbuilder" in my eyes, and this despite the fact that the film totally wasted Tony Todd in a throwaway role as a local recluse with a proclivity for purloined Christmas lights. Todd gets precious little screen time, and considering how quirky his character is, it's a real shame.The DVD edition of the film contains a commentary from director Jamie Dixon, a trailer, and cast biographies. I suspect some viewers will dislike the film, but I enjoyed it. I still think moviemakers should discontinue tossing around names like Lovecraft and Stoker when they make low budget B movies. Despite the inherent goodness of "Shadowbuilder," adapting stories written by the horror masters often serve only to cheapen everyone involved. Give this one a shot if you like horror films."
Not too bad for a B horror film
Jonathan Appleseed | 07/20/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This is based on a Bram Stoker story, and I'd love to see the story. Surely his story didn't include electricity, generators, police cars, guns - well, of course it didn't. It couldn't have.But this is, all in all, a pretty good horror film. There aren't really any points in the film where I'm terrified, but the story line remains solid throughout the film. My main complaints are the casting of Michael Rooker as a priest (even if he has a troubled past), and the special effects - which somehow won an award from an obscure award ceremony, Fantafestival. The Shadowbuilder himself really wasn't all that convincing.Still, this was a horror film that began and ended with the same premise. It didn't deviate, and its characters didn't commit random acts of remarkable stupidity. It was a wholly believable story (in terms of being a movie, of course), and Kevin Zegers gave a good performance as the 12 year old that the Shadowbuilder wanted to possess.One other complaint that I have - if Zegers's character is supposed to be this special person (I'll let the film explain why he is), why didn't he exhibit any special traits?By the way, neither the DVD cover that Amazon has as its image, nor the actual cover that I received when I ordered it, has anything to do with the movie. Poor packaging, even though the cover I received was "cool". The one Amazon has depicts a blonde boy. Last I checked, and for his entire career, Zegers has been a brunette."
Disappointing In-Name-Only Bram Stoker Adaptation
Tsuyoshi | Kyoto, Japan | 03/23/2008
(2 out of 5 stars)
""Shadow Builder" starts with a typical situation involving a religious cult sect and their secret ritual to summon a demon. Gun-wielding "Father" Vassey (Michael Rooker) attempts to stop them, but fails, and the summoned demon seeks the soul of a boy named Chris (Kevin Zegers) living in a small town where the evil begins to wreck havoc on unsuspecting townspeople.
The film is loosely based on Bram Stoker's little-known short story of the same name (included in his book "Under the Sunset," Stoker's earlier work published in 1881). It is a kind of allegorical fantasy, not a tale of horror. The filmmakers are clearly trying to cash in on the name of the author of "Dracula," and most of the film's content has nothing to do with the original.
Actually "Shadow Builder" borrows a lot from other films of the same genre - the evil hiding in the dark, the evil entity getting stronger and the good guys using light as weapon to fight, etc - but borrowing is not always a bad thing. The problem of "Shadow Builder" is it is neither scary as horror, nor exiting as thriller. The story develops too slowly and each scare or action is rather tame. Effects are decent, but the story fails to maintain interest in the middle of the film.
Strong acting from underrated Michael Rooker and special appearance from Tony Todd is not enough for us to keep interested in the film, Its flat storytelling has ruined the potential of the material of the film, which could have been as entertaining as such so-so films as "End of Days.""