Shortwave posterInspired by the fascinating topic of shortwave radio, Ryan Gregory Phillips‘s Shortwave proposes a substantially dark theory on the origin of shortwave signals. Phillips builds uncommonly solid atmosphere, a key ingredient for the genre, on the shoestring budget of an independent horror film. He also coaxes strong performances from a small cast, who fight to keep the film on the tracks even as its plot becomes increasingly grisly and incoherent.

Young couple Isabel (Juanita Ringeling) and Josh (Cristobal Tapia Montt), still struggling after the mysterious loss of their only child, are relocated to a remote mansion in the woods by Josh’s employer, a company named for radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi. Josh and his coworker Thomas (Kyle Davis) are close to a breakthrough in their shortwave research project, but they soon discover that their work is causing Isabel to experience disturbing hallucinations. Or, of course, are they hallucinations?

Picture of IsabelRingeling and Montt have chemistry as the tragic couple, and Davis is believably slimy as Josh’s work-first research partner. The film also gets a lot of mileage out of its chief location, the mansion, although its presumably smallish budget is betrayed by the fact that nearly all of the action takes place inside. The forested hills surrounding the house are intriguing, but the camera never really makes its way out there. Additionally, while Phillips makes the probably wise decision to only show the film’s antagonists in glimpses, they do not make much of an impression. The movie may have atmosphere in spades, but creature design also matters.

Shortwave has much to recommend, including an intriguing concept and good craft, but it is ultimately let down by a plot that becomes harder and harder to follow. The film’s writer-director may be able to explain what is going on at the house, but not enough clues make it to the screen. Instead, violence and gore are gradually substituted for sense, particularly in the third act. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but mayhem is less compelling when it is not grounded. Isabel’s actions are increasingly hard to fathom, as are the machinations of Josh’s employer. Some of this mystery is likely intentional, but the ending may be a bit too mysterious for most. And why do events never tie back to the opening scene? Regardless, Shortwave is a solid calling card for Phillips, cast, and crew, and one can hope that the talent on display here will move on to more complete projects.

 

UGeek Rating: 5/10

PS: This film played at Salt Lake City’s own genre film festival, FilmQuest, June 17-25. Check out FilmQuest 4 in 2017!