Ad campaigns commonly focus on the violence or the sex or the horror in a movie because that’s what sells tickets – regardless of whether or not the advertised aspect is what is important or central to the product. Shadow Hours‘ ad campaign features a photo of a body suspended on chains and lures ticketbuyers with a promise that "just when you think you’ve seen it all, you realize you haven’t seen a thing."
Shadow Hours gives the impression that it was made by the ad copywriters – a showcase for the titillation which sells, tacking on, almost as an afterthought, a simple and obvious story as an excuse for exploiting scenes involving drugs, kinky sex (bondage, S&M, piercing, even – gasp! – lesbianism), and gambling on no-holds-barred fist fights. There’s no reason not to use such materials in a film if they serve the purpose of a broader theme, but failing that, you are left with no more than loosely disguised (and boring) exploitation. If that’s what you want, there are plenty of videos at the porn stores which will show you more, at greater length, and in fuller detail – except perhaps for the climactic last horror, which won’t be described here, just in case anybody actually intends to spend good money on a ticket.
Michael Holloway (Balthazar Getty) is a clean-and-sober ex-addict, married to a loving and pregnant wife (Rebecca Gayheart), working the night shift in a bottom rung job at a gas station in a seedy Los Angeles neighborhood. (His addiction is explained in a throwaway line or two about the father who deserted and the mother who committed suicide.) Enter a Mephistopheles stand-in, Stuart Chapell (Peter Weller), allegedly a writer, who lures Holloway with money and clothes into nighttime tours of ever seedier, ever kinkier L.A., starting with the Chippendales and working its way into the gutter from there. In the background is a police detective trying to solve a series of murders in which the victims’ heads were twisted 180 degrees.
Will Holloway hold on to his marriage and his substance-free life? Or will he fall off the wagon and into the pit of evil debauchery? It’s the only question that the plot presents (the murder case is only an excuse for a final shootout) and, frankly, it’s hard to give a damn. The character of Holloway is unplumbed; he never transcends the function of being the audience’s eyes on the excursions into the underside.
With a hyperactive camera and a palette of nighttime neon, Shadow Hours succeeds in creating a tense, dark visual background. But it never achieves its claimed noir standing, because it never gets beneath the acting out and into the character of evil. A pounding techno score by Brian Tyler provides some of the momentum that the plot fails to generate.
Since there is no more than the display of kink and depravity at its cynical core, Shadow Hours succeeds only in making voyeurs of its audience.