In the Shadow of the Moon
For a remake of the acclaimed documentary about NASA’s Apollo space program, Netflix’s In the Shadow of the Moon misses the mark pretty badly. For a TV movie thriller about a time-traveling serial killer… well, it’s pretty middling at that as well.
The truly strange thing about recycling this particular title is that the phrase isn’t especially meaningful to the movie anyway. Although lunar cycles do vaguely play into the plot via some pseudo-science mumbo jumbo mentioned offhandedly, none of the characters dwell on that aspect. This isn’t a werewolf movie where everybody’s living in fear of the full moon. It’s just a thing that happens to coincide with other, more important events. Given that the scientific explanation is flagrant nonsense, the screenwriters could have made up anything they wanted and then slapped on a more suitable title.
Boyd Holbrook stars in the film as Tommy Lockhart, a beat cop in 1988 Philadelphia with ambitions to become a detective like his more successful brother-in-law (Michael C. Hall). After making the connection between a series of bizarre deaths in which the victims’ brains literally melted and oozed out of their heads, Lockhart suspects a serial killer at work and forces himself onto the case. He IDs a girl in a hoodie (Cleopatra Coleman) as a suspect, chases and fights with her, and watches her die. Despite saving the day, Lockhart feels deprived of answers about what the girl was doing or how she did it.
Exactly nine years later, in 1997, a new series of victims turn up with their brains melted in the same way as before, and security camera footage captures an image of the girl Lockhart watched die. He’s determined to prove that it’s the same killer and find out how she’s still alive. Eventually, as the cycle repeats again in 2006. Lockhart deduces that the assassin is a time traveler moving backward in nine year increments, always arriving on the day of a supermoon. She’s still alive in 2006 and 1997 because he hasn’t killed her yet, and won’t until she gets all the way back to 1988. The more the story continues to jump forward through time, the worse Lockhart’s career and personal relationships fall apart as he lets his obsession with catching and stopping the time traveler consume his life. Naturally, everyone else thinks he’s lost his marbles. And what if he really has?
To give it some credit, Netflix’s In the Shadow of the Moon has a somewhat nifty premise that mashes together time travel and serial killer tropes. Unfortunately, the execution is mostly dull and the plot ultimately doesn’t make a damn bit of sense. Once the explanations are laid out for what the assassin is doing, there’s really no need for her to move backward in nine-year intervals when she should have gone straight to 1988 and accomplished everything she needed. The gimmick of her returning every nine years, which is the primary driver for everything the hero does, could and should have been avoided altogether.
Further, the movie flatly contradicts itself about whether a timeline can be changed or if it’s fixed and fate cannot be altered. On the one hand, it tells us that the main characters all have destinies that are set in stone and nothing they do will stop them from happening. On the other hand, if that’s true, then there’s no point to the assassin traveling back in time at all, because she can’t possibly change history. The film presents two contradictory theories of time travel and never resolves the conflict between them.
Boyd Holbrook is fine as the hero, and does a pretty good job of selling the character’s deterioration over time, but I spent the whole movie wondering why Michael C. Hall would take a supporting role where he’s given nothing interesting or notable to do. Why isn’t he the lead in this?
For a Netflix Original, this In the Shadow of the Moon is a moderately entertaining time-waster, but if you give the plot any thought at all, it’ll frustrate the hell out of you.