The creator of Sweet Tooth directed this underrated sci-fi thriller

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Science fiction can be a difficult genre to pin down. A story that lacks complexity fails to engage, while a story with too much complexity will put off any interested party. When mixing ideas and building twists on top of twists, it can be hard not to get carried away.

In the shadow of the moon premiered at Fantastic Fest in September 2019, before going straight to Netflix a week later. The film currently holds 58% on Rotten Tomatoes and garnered extremely mixed reviews from critics upon its release. Some saw the film as an unoriginal dud, while others view it as a solid concept that was executed well most of the time. Some spoilers for In the shadow of the moon follow, so proceed with caution.

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In the shadow of the moon follows Philadelphia cop Thomas Lockhart as he becomes embroiled in an inexplicable spate of sudden murders. When several seemingly unrelated people spontaneously hemorrhage their brains, Lockhart and his fellow officers uncover a unique pattern of evidence that connects the bizarre deaths. Further investigation leads Lockhart into a dangerous pursuit and confrontation with the attacker, a young woman with seemingly supernatural abilities. The culprit easily overpowers Lockhart and his partner, but what really shocks the officer is that she seems to know a lot about him. After some cryptic hints about the officer’s future, the young woman predicts her own death, then falls back into an oncoming train, leaving Thomas confused and horrified. Thomas leaves the scene just in time to join his wife, who dies in childbirth as her culprit had predicted. Thomas is forever changed by the strangest event of his life, followed by the loss of his wife. When the killings resume nine years later, Thomas must race to solve the mystery and figure out what he has to do with it all.


The plot of In the shadow of the moon crosses a wide span of time, but also eagerly jumps across genres to weave a bizarre tapestry. Above all, it’s a detective story with a semi-soft science fiction side. Between the years of investigation and the weird technological fantasy, the film achieves unsettling family drama and a bit of social commentary. There’s a philosophical weight to the story that doesn’t fully come into play until the end, but the personal story is the driving center of the narrative. The film finds snapshots of Lockhart’s life, with each interaction with the mysterious killer drastically distorting his personality and his relationship with his family. The movie features time travel, but it’s not really a time travel movie as that term is commonly understood. It’s a work of unique perspective, choosing to see the events of a typical time travel thriller through the eyes of someone who is only partially aware of what’s going on.


The casting is one of the few aspects of the film that received near-universal praise. Boyd Holbrook, probably best known for his role as Donald Pierce in Logan, stars as Thomas and brings commendable versatility to the role. The film finds the character in drastically different places in her life throughout its run, essentially giving the audience a separate main character for each act of the story. Holbrook is excellent in the lead role. He’s a street sleuth and devoted family man who, through inexplicable circumstances, slowly becomes an unhinged conspiracy theorist, and the change feels very natural. Dexter Star Michael C. Hall also shines as Lockhart’s compassionate brother-in-law. Bokeem Woodbine is fun and charming as Lockhart’s friendly sidekick. Cleopatra Coleman, better known as Erica in The last man on earth or Grace in Dope, is absolutely stellar as Rya, the film’s mysterious antagonist. Coleman, a trained dancer, is electric in the film’s action scenes, selling herself as powerful in ways that can’t be explained.


The film’s biggest weakness is its ambition – there’s a little too much going on. It combines the story of a man wracked with grief and faced with things he can’t explain, with a bizarre series of unnecessary dumps on the mechanics of his world. Some elements of the film don’t make much sense, largely because the point-of-view character is as misinformed as the audience. However, those more puzzling moments are largely forgotten once the movie gets where it’s going. There are indisputable weaknesses in the film’s lore, many of which are extremely common in films involving time travel. The elements that stand out are strong, but there’s plenty for those who aren’t engaged.


Fans of loose sci-fi, crime films and heavy twists will find plenty to love from In the shadow of the moon. It’s far from perfect, but the solid performances and heartfelt drama at its heart keep the film from feeling like a waste, and it deserves more recognition than it’s currently getting. For those wishing to check out this underrated film, In the shadow of the moon is available to stream now on Netflix.

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