First time feature director Matthew Arnold has a lofty goal: "I want to believe that my movie's going to do for sleeping whatJaws
did for swimming." Currently being released on DVD, Arnold's psychological thriller
just might do that.
The film stars former Houstonian Dallas Roberts as Charlie Crowe, a down-on-his-luck DJ with a late night talk show. After a teenaged caller who reports seeing figures in the dark dies in his sleep, Crowe's show is inundated with calls from other listeners who report having seen the same shadowy figures. The teen's death is followed by those of several other people who die under similar circumstances. Crowe begins to gather evidence to prove the existence of these Shadow People, eventually starting to see them himself.
"The way I really got into the story in the first place was that I had [seen] one of these things myself," Arnold, who both directed and wrote Shadow People, tells us. "I woke up in my bed and saw a figure standing over me. I was utterly paralyzed with fear. I forced myself to sit up and the figure just shot through the wall and I thought, 'What the heck is this?' I ended up finding out that there's a worldwide phenomenon of people seeing these figures ... and sometimes dying afterwards.
"There's a word for [these shadow people] in every culture, but it somehow doesn't seem to be common knowledge. It's this widely experienced phenomenon that nobody ever talks about. People don't want to sound crazy, so they don't talk about it."
The phenomenon has been documented by the Centers for Disease Control as Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome. Over the last 40 years, at least two outbreaks of SUNDS have occurred in the United States. In Shadow People, there's an outbreak among Crowe's listeners.
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So what does Arnold believe about SUNDS? Are the Shadow People his characters see in the film ghostly demon killers or just a figment of the victims' imaginations?
"The main thing is that the mind is incredibly powerful, much more so than we know in terms of affecting ourselves. For people who believed that those things they were seeing were deadly, their minds tricked them into believing that they were dying and they did, in fact, die.
"Really my story is about how the mind works and how things that we believe are real can become real just because of our belief in them. I leave it up to the audience. I give them as much information as I can and then let them decide. Hopefully after people see the movie, they'll want to go do their own research and find out more about this."
Arnold says that casting lead actor Dallas Roberts was key to the film's success. "I knew that Charlie Crowe's life was troubled and we see him do things for questionable reasons. Dallas has this remarkable quality, he's so lovable and authentic. Even if he's doing something wrong, you can still sympathize with him. Dallas is an amazingly talented actor. A lot of those takes you saw in the film were first takes because Dallas was so well prepared, we got what we needed right away."