(Written by Intern, Megan Davis)
How does a group get their message across when its members are not a unified front? Based on the stage production The Shadow Whose Prey The Hunter Becomes, Brian Gladwin’s Shadow is a look into the harsh reality of the lives of those with intellectual disabilities. What is meant to be an effort of uniting the disabled community with the world, turns into a realization of prejudice from within.
The film commences with a town hall called by Simon (Simon Laherty), Scott (Scott Price), and Sarah (Sarah Mainwaring), three activists with intellectual disabilities, to examine the impact of artificial intelligence on the future. Simon, holding a savior complex, self-proclaims himself as the mayor of this town and, in doing so, leaves his fellow advocates to lesser roles. Blunt and sometimes brash Scott is the facilitator of the discussion, but repeatedly finds himself inserting his own opinions over others. Meanwhile, timid and often overlooked Sarah, titled the “secretary” of the municipality by Simon and merely a “receptionist” by Scott, provides the hard truth of living with a disability through her frustration. The personalities and beliefs of the three clash, affecting their ability to adequately deliver their point. All the while, a machine looming over them recognizes their voices, subtitles them, and even responds to those in the room.
Sarah provides a standout performance in Shadow. The passion and anger we see Mainwaring display in her role is powerful, and she easily has the most hard-hitting dialogue. Her character begins in a startled state, unable to speak her assigned part out of fear upon being watched by so many people. As the story progresses, she begins to voice her thoughts louder and more confidently. Her irritation, not only with the way able-bodied people treat her and others like her but also with how unfairly her disabled peers behave toward her, bubbles to the surface to tell a compelling story.
The editing style is simple and unnoticeable in most places, which allows more opportunities to explore the issues brought forth by discriminatory actions within the group. Similarly, silence is used cleverly to convey the imperfect attempts of sharing their perceptions. Breaks between dialogue are found throughout to depict the struggle to communicate their feelings aloud and properly disseminate the conclusion they have reached concerning AI.
Shadow provides a welcome perspective to the way others live, most effectively by positioning the camera directly from Sarah’s physical vantage point. Watching others stare in her direction with a boom mic above her face, as she struggles to form her words really puts the audience into her shoes. Shadow is a must-watch simply to understand the way those with intellectual disabilities communicate, think, and see the world. It considers how everyone is different and holds their own distinct comfort level and identity as relates to their disability.
However, the artificial intelligence aspect of this story seems to be lost for much of the film. The introduction of the AI subtitling mechanism appears relatively late, and the only comparable technology displayed prior is a Siri knock-off. It is only in the denouement when the importance of their stance on these robotics are shown, and by that point, it doesn’t seem incredibly relevant. While the intended message of the population widely being handicapped once human understanding is overtaken by machine intelligence does eventually come through, it seems more like an issue on the back of their minds, despite calling the town hall entirely to express that concept.
All considered, Shadow is an incredible watch for one looking for a perspective outside their own. The acting powerfully exhibits opposing viewpoints on disabilities and gives an important focus to the injustices toward the disabled community. The commentary on discrimination, both internal and external to the group, is moving, and will force one to think about their impact on others.
Shadow screened at the 2022 South by Southwest Film Festival.