There’s nothing wrong with mixing movie genres. In some cases, doing so can make a good movie into a great one. Think of Aliens, merging the cosmic technology of science-fiction with the macho body count of action movies. Or Army of Darkness, a goofy cocktail of fantasy, horror and comedy. Even recently with the bleak drama and understated comedy in The Art of Self-Defense. Blending genres is an effective way to make a movie unique, if one knows how to balance those elements well. The mixture has to be fair and flowing, taking tone and pacing into account as the movie weaves in and out of different atmospheres. A dip too far into one genre and the balance is thrown off, with the viewer wondering why the movie suddenly feels lost. Other times a movie stays so locked into one genre that another one popping up would be distracting.
At face value, In the Shadow of the Moon is an old-school detective thriller. The basic elements are there, as cocky Philadelphia police officer Locke (Boyd Holbrook) and his partner Maddox (Bokeem Woodbine) investigate a string a random murders one night in 1988. Locke is struggling to make detective yet shows more initiative than his detective brother-in-law Holt (Michael C. Hall). He chases down the mysterious hooded killer (Cleopatra Coleman), but she’s killed in the chase. Nine years go by and similar murders start happening, with the mystery woman at the scene. How is she alive? What methods did she use to kill these people? Why is she doing this? Where or when will she be next?
It seems to be business as usual for director Jim Mickle, who previously showed his chops making crime dramas with the excellent Cold in July. That aspect of In the Shadow of the Moon is done well-enough, if not a bit routinely. Much of the movie is shot and performed like a reboot of NYPD Blue with tenser chases and more gore. Mickle bows at the altar of grisled city cops, with the three male leads walking and talking with hard-boiled attitudes and chips on their shoulders. It’s all complimented by the washed-out cinematography of David Lanzenberg (The Signal, Peppermint) and his harsh lighting of the world surrounding Locke. For the first hour, Mickle’s audition to make Netflix’s answer to Law & Order is solid enough.
Unfortunately, In the Shadow of the Moon finishes itself off as a time-traveling science-fiction thriller and that is where the script starts to fail the feature. Not that Gregory Weidman and Geoffrey Tock (Zoo) don’t have a solid mystery that has a heartfelt payoff at the end, it’s just that it stops the movie’s momentum every time it rears its head. The balance here is about 90 percent detective drama and ten percent science-fiction, yet that ten percent keeps throwing off the mood and pacing of the movie each time. Sure it brings about a fun chase scene every now and then, but that excitement distracts from the drama built up from the detective-side of the movie. It causes a push-and-pull between the two genres that the script can’t effectively balance and Mickle can’t pace properly. Both sides of the movie are at least interesting on their own, but there’s no connecting element making them flow together.
Even the cast feels stuck in the detective movie without ever embracing the science-fiction, but at least they get the former part right. Holbrook is perfect as the cocky, scruffy go-getter driven to macho madness by the movie’s mystery. Known for mostly supporting roles (Logan), he’s a better fit for something more restrained and simple than his leading turn in The Predator last year. It also helps he’s got Woodbine, one of the best supporting actors of the millennium, backing him in the moments of character development. It’s a shame that Hall doesn’t get more to do here but serves the project enough later on as the straight man to the increasing madness. Even though Coleman is a piece of the sci-fi in the movie, her intimidating presence and cold delivery makes her more fit for the detective side (not to mention her impressive fight choreography). Still, no one seems to be representing the sci-fi side of the movie properly, furthering the question of why there’s even a science-fiction element of this movie at all.
In the Shadow of the Moon has two pretty good movies in its 115-minute runtime that just can’t seem to come together. The detective story has suspense and a cool mood, but it’s missing flare and a hook. The sci-fi story has heart and style, but it’s missing drama and urgency. The genres aren’t so much balanced as they are shoved into each other in the hopes they coalesce. The effort’s there, but the mystery still stands of what else is missing in the final product.