Movie Review: Netflix Film “In the Shadow of the Moon”

Watching In the Shadow of the Moon, the newest Netflix production from director Jim Mickle, is an eerie experience. Not because it wants to be (though, with a plot involving a murderer mysteriously repeating her killing spree nine years after her death, it certainly does), but because you feel so strongly that you’ve seen this movie somewhere before — except it’s not quite right this time. Something’s off. It’s uncanny in the Freudian sense, simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar, like looking at your own wax figure. And, in a way, you have seen this before. Just not all at the same time.

Opening with a short look at the aftermath of some disaster in 2024, the movie’s story really begins one night in 1988, when Philadelphia cops Lockhart (Boyd Holbrook) and Maddox (Bokeem Woodbine) are faced with three similar but seemingly random killings. They frantically chase down their only, unidentified suspect (Cleopatra Coleman), and when she accidentally dies in the process, the murders stop — only to suddenly start back up again exactly nine years later. Described as a science-fiction thriller, In the Shadow of the Moon is really a genre-bender, pulling elements of the serial-killer crime drama, the cerebral puzzle-film, and the time-travel/action film together into a single package. While this ambitious vision is commendable, Mickle’s way of executing it is to stitch together the stylistic calling cards of some of those genres’ most successful directors, creating the film equivalent of Frankenstein’s monster.

David Fincher was perhaps the clearest inspiration, with the characters and cinematography evoking Seven early on before transitioning to Zodiac as Lockhart becomes increasingly obsessed with the case, but many others can be found sprinkled throughout. Dream sequences (complete with wife-hit-by-train motif) and a tumbling van evoke Christopher Nolan’s Inception, while future-technology scenes include the lens flares that are J.J. Abrams’ trademark. The occasional use of stylized slow motion is reminiscent of Zach Snyder’s filmography, and the script even goes for an M. Night Shyamalan-esque twist ending, but you’ll see it coming from miles away. It’s as if someone tried to distill effective genre filmmaking down to a few flourishes, and they feel as incongruous as listing them off makes them seem.

Though it makes for an odd tone, this stylistic mashup could still be serviceable with a solid foundation, but the film’s problems unfortunately extend beyond its aesthetics. The dialogue is cliché and occasionally clunky, and because the story involves a series of nine-year jumps, changes in facial hair are too frequently mistaken for character development. The performances are consistently lackluster (but given the general talent of the cast, I’d chalk that up to the difficulty of overcoming bad writing), and the attempts to be timely and socially relevant fall painfully flat. The story does suggest some pretty interesting themes, but the mishandled practicalities of the science fiction, such as time travel, distract from the larger ideas they suggest. In the end, what could have been a creative and compelling genre mashup is a paint-by-numbers thriller that tries and fails to mimic its way to success.