Shadow Hours

on July 14, 2000 by Michael Tunison
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   With its ambiguous moral message and running allusions to Dante's "Inferno," writer-director Isaac H. Eaton's "Shadow Hours" aims for a level of thematic ambitiousness that is rare among low-budget indie dramas. But like the film's troubled hero, a drug-addicted gas station attendant trying to find his bearings in the Information Age Babylon known as Los Angeles, this "walk on the wild side" story has a way of not living up to its potential.

   Following in the footsteps of Dante's narrator, Michael Holloway (Balthazar Getty from "The Lost Highway") starts out lost in a metaphorical dark wood and proceeds to descend through the concentric circles of a torture-filled Hades--in this case, the grim underworld of L.A. sex, violence and fetish clubs. The guide coaxing the vulnerable protagonist deeper and deeper into this land of lost souls is Stuart Chappell (Peter Weller of "RoboCop" fame), a mysterious writer with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of pocket cash who claims to be researching a book, but seems more focused on undermining what little self-control the 12-stepping Michael has left.

   Meanwhile, generic elements such as a serial killer on the loose (argh!) are just as effectively undermining the narrative's punch. The use of Michael's young wife (Rebecca Gayheart from "Urban Legend") as a Beatrice-like angelic voice calling him back to the light is especially contrived-feeling--the scenes between husband and wife are the film's least dramatically convincing. Sequences involving sadomasochistic action in the clubs are certainly jarring (fishhooks in the face, anyone?), but they often seem spliced in to pump up interest as the storyline's direction becomes increasingly obvious. In the end, "Shadow Hours" doesn't even manage to escape the shadow of last year's similar Nicolas Cage starrer "8mm"--a flawed studio-produced effort that nonetheless ended up in edgier, more interesting territory.    Starring Balthazar Getty, Peter Weller, Rebecca Gayheart and Peter Greene. Directed and written by Isaac H. Eaton. Produced by Peter McAlevey and Isaac H. Eaton. A Seven Arts release. Drama. Rated R for strong violence, sexuality, masochistic images, drug use and language. Running time: 93 min.

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