Podcaster-turned-director Tony Merkel won’t convert the naysayers with “The Shape of Shadows.”
The indie documentary offers nuggets of paranormal activity but nothing conclusive or revelatory.
It’s a cinematic spin on his podcast, “The Confessionals,” where he listens, without judgment, to people sharing stories that can’t be explained away by traditional science.
He’s a seeker, and “Shadows” mirrors that curiosity. It also taps into an element many might find surprising – the strain of Christianity which unites Merkel and his flock.
“Shape of Shadows” finds Merkel’s small team exploring Space Wolf Research, a Utah land parcel where the legend of the Skinwalker refuses to fade away. Stories of supernatural happenings pop up in mainstream culture, witness shows like The History Channel’s “The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch.”
“Shadows” offers a complementary take on those tales, zooming in on those curious about their origins and how they intersect with local culture. It helps that “Shadows” arrives at a time when more and more conspiracy theories are proving to be true.
Armed with camera equipment and open minds, Merkel’s crew pieces together clues suggesting the legendary tales have a kernel of truth to them.
The documentary introduces us to two Native Americans who have little doubt that paranormal activities are very real. It’s part of their heritage, and they patiently explain how they overlap with stories passed down over the years.
Merkel’s camera gives too much time to them in some instances, where a more efficient storytelling mode would have served the project better.
The low-budget feature boasts impressive cinematography, making the most of its Utah backdrop. Even the score overshoots its fiscal restraints, adding just the right touch to scenes designed to upend our preconceived notions.
Merkel doesn’t take center stage. He lets his collaborators get plenty of face time, capturing their unrehearsed reactions in the process. These aren’t wannabe reality show stars aping for the camera.
They also quietly share the spiritual core behind their curiosity.
Gentle signs of Christianity abound, from talk of prayer to cross symbols seen amidst the camera gear and vehicles.
The film’s waning minutes are meant to offer another sign of the paranormal, but the lack of documenting footage undercuts its argument.
“The Shape of Shadows” clocks in at under 90 minutes, but it’s the rare case of a documentary where more could have been better. How does Merkel’s faith align with the paranormal events he seeks to document, for starters?
Those eager to learn more may need to tap into Merkel’s expanding media empire. “Shadows” only scratches the surface, but it does so in ways that make us eager for more.
HiT or Miss: “The Shape of Shadows” offers a lo-fi look at those who seek proof of the paranormal, revealing something about them, and ourselves, along the way.