In the Shadow of the Moon (on Netflix) is a reasonably OK science-fiction police procedural that begins with a flash-forward to 2024, where Philadelphia is in ashy ruins and the U.S. flag has been reconfigured to have five big stars instead of 50 little ones. With this indication that The Future will be involved in the story, we go back to 1988, where Philly beat cop Locke (Boyd Holbrook) is among those on the scene when people start dying suddenly of massive internal hemorrhaging. Bioterrorism is suspected, and the apparent culprit, a young black woman named Rya (Cleopatra Coleman), is killed in the process of being apprehended. Case closed!
Except that in 1997, on the ninth anniversary of that day, people start dying again in the same fashion. By now Locke is a detective, no longer jealous of his brother-in-law, Holt (Michael C. Hall), who has a thick Philly accent (it sounds much like Baltimore’s) and has moved up the ranks in the police force. Much to Locke’s surprise, Rya appears again despite having died nine years ago. What’s going on here?
Yes, there is time travel of a sort; yes, there are shades of Terminator; yes, the moon is involved (kind of). Director Jim Mickle, who’s already tackled vampires (Stake Land), rage viruses (Mulberry Street), cannibals (We Are What We Are), and crime-noir (Cold in July), does what he can with the screenplay by first-timers Gregory Weidman and Geoffrey Tock, but he’s hamstrung by its focus on the cop stuff, which is formulaic, over the sci-fi stuff, which is interesting. (Locke has a pregnant wife and a black partner who says “Sheeee-it” a lot, to name just two of the terribly familiar police clichés.) I note that this is the first of Mickle’s movies that he didn’t at least co-write himself.
The meat of the story, though, which has Locke going a little insane trying to figure out what’s happening (and convince others of it), is exciting, nerdy sci-fi business, and Holbrook and Hall wear their weary cop characters well. I wish the film did more with some of the ideas it brings up, like the protests briefly seen to arise when the initial murders are blamed on an anonymous black woman who was conveniently killed without trial. If someone goes back in time and remakes the movie, I suggest fixing that, but otherwise it’s good enough.
Screened at Fantastic Fest.