Shadow Master review – martial arts meet dark arts in ultraviolent horror sci-fi

Someone or something is abducting children from an asylum. Step forward the new nightwatchman, a martial arts star battling demonic voices ordering him to kill. Cue mayhem

This pulpy, ultraviolent horror-sci-fi-action whatnot of a film seems to unfold in a post-apocalyptic end-time – or maybe just a very rough suburb of Los Angeles. It’s hard to tell, nor does it much matter. Whatever the context, this is a world where it’s always night, where colours are so desaturated that everything’s a kind of slushy orangey brown, everybody has unkempt hair or dreads, and the borders between the spirit world and that of the living are somewhat porous.

A young man named Voaen (played by martial arts champ DY Sao) arrives to take a night watchman job at a crusty squat which is in fact some sort of asylum for families with sick family members. After introductions to the many and varied residents, Voaen makes doe eyes with Janett (Luciana Faulhaber), a pretty mother with a young wheelchair-using son – but it’s hard to fathom the depths of their feelings for one another under all that hair. Someone or something is abducting children, so everybody is a bit jumpy. The multi-ethnic cast mention all kinds of deities and theological beliefs, from Hanuman the monkey god to four apocalyptic horseman to someone named Mephisto. The costumes and makeup are similarly elaborate and eclectic, a mixture of armour, nail extensions, decorated beekeeping hats and (the meme of the moment these days) medieval plague doctor masks.

Voaen has a near-death experience and discovers that some kind of god/demonic force is trying to use him as an instrument of its nefarious aims. At the same time, the residents of the asylum are hoping that he can call on his past history of violence (shown in a flurry of fighting flashbacks) to protect the weak. As Voaen tries to perform his rounds at the facility he keeps hearing the subsonic grumble of the demon’s voice which (as far as I can make out in the super-muddy sound mix) are mostly commands to kill – though maybe it’s a grocery list. Judging by the soundtrack, the shouting and hysteria escalate, but it’s hard to tell what’s going on in all that murk. Shadowy it is indeed, but mastery is more questionable.

• Shadow Master is released on 30 January on digital platforms.


Leslie Felperin

The GuardianTramp

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