Shadow People was released to Blu-ray/DVD yesterday by Image Entertainment, and stars The Walking Dead's Dallas Roberts. I recently had a chance to catch up with both Dallas Roberts and director Matthew Arnold to talk about the real events that inspired the movie, and their experiences seeing shadow people:
What inspired you to research the shadow people myth and create a movie based on it?
Matthew Arnold: The story came to me from my own personal experience. I woke up one night, and my body was totally paralyzed. I felt like my body was asleep, but I was awake, and could see a shadowy person standing over me. I finally yelled and willed my body to get up, and the figure shot through the wall. What the hell just happened?
It was an utterly terrifying experience to be paralyzed and have something in the room with you. I began to research it and didn't know how to find out what it was because there isn't a lot of discussion about this. If you see a ghost, you can tell everyone what it was, but if you see this thing, you don't know what to say.
The more I researched it, the more common I found it to be. Almost every culture has a name for this and our roots have explanations for this. If you look at the old English word "nightmare," a "mare" is an evil spirit that comes in the night to suffocate you. If you look at the etymology of the word, it refers to a spirit that holds you down, but now it means a totally different thing.
I learned about an epidemic in the late 70's where the CDC was sent in and it was officially referred to as "sudden unexplained nocturnal death syndrome." Other little pockets of this have popped up in places all around the world, and it's funny how the stories are right among us, but no one is really talking about them. It was surprising to me that we don't have a lot of movies about them.
When did this experience with a shadow figure happen to you?
Matthew Arnold: It was about four or five years ago. I was writing a lot, up late at night, and not getting a lot of sleep. In one regard, if you believe in the entity itself, they are drawn to the delta waves you give off during sleep. People that don't get good sleep give off a lot of delta waves, and they are drawing these creatures who are picking up your signals and listening to you in your sleep.
If you look at this from a scientific approach, it's in your head and your mind is causing a problem that can be deadly. It has to do with not getting enough sleep, and your mind is mixing signals between the awake and asleep state. You're actually awake, but getting dreams simultaneously. We tend to underestimate how powerful our mind is.
Does your opinion on the shadow figures lean more to the scientific or creature explanation?
Matthew Arnold: It's really hard for me, because the experience was so frightening and so real, that I can't help but think that there was something real in my room. I find it hard to believe that I put it in my mind, but I can believe that my mind is capable of tricking me and more powerful than I can estimate.
I come from a science background and try to always find an explanation. The thing that was most exciting about this story was that I couldn't fit it into that scientific box so easily, and I think that's why I became so fascinated by it. I went on some of the same sort of path Charlie went on. The more you get involved and research this, the more you start thinking about it, and convince yourself that it's real.
Shadow People mixes real footage and interviews into the movie. Why did you decide to go this route over a documentary or a movie that was a straight dramatization?
Matthew Arnold: There was a point at which I was writing fictional scenes, thinking it would be a found footage movie like Paranormal Activity. Then, I thought: Why cloud something real with something fake and undermine the truth of it?
I thought we should include the real story, but since I didn't have everything that happened with Charlie, we dramatized those segments. Sometimes a documentary can be very scientific and you can lose the emotion, and a dramatic film can have emotion and no facts. I wanted to give the reader both options and not push an agenda on them. There are no real answers, even the CDC doesn't have the answers for the deaths, and viewers can decide on what they believe. Do you believe in entities that are crossing into our world? Or is it all in our mind and our brain is more dangerous than we could have possibly imagined? I thought I'd give the audience all the tools to decide and that's how this hybrid was born.
What was it about the story behind Shadow People that made you want to take on this role?
Dallas Roberts: I found the story inherently compelling. In researching everything, I started see things out of the corner of my eyes... When you learn about something for the first time, you start to see it everywhere. I learned that the figures in shadow have existed in cultures for a long time and started to have a better frame of reference. Horror movies play on that experience of constantly seeing something in the corner of our eyes. Instead of it being nothing or made up, Shadow People is saying, "This is what it really is."
After we started being exposed to it, everyone involved in the movie began to have the same experiences. The more they learned about it, the more it gets in. It's fun in that way.
Did you start out as more of a skeptic and did something convince you that this could be real?
Dallas Roberts: I would hope to never be called a skeptic, and hope to be someone that's open to anything. I was struck by the universality of this myth, and I call it a myth because I don't have a word that gets closer to that. The notion that this story has held on for so long and was reflected from so many varied cultures is immensely fascinating.
Many of our readers are probably used to seeing you as Milton on The Walking Dead, but you look quite a bit different here. How important is it for you to take on varied roles with different appearances?
Dallas Roberts: My greatest goal is that every time you see me in something, it takes time to realize it's me. I strive for that kind of differentiation, so if Milton is different from Charlie, I'm halfway done with my job. When it came to differentiating between the real Charlie and myself, I noticed right away that I didn't look or sound like this guy. I just kind of shut that part down and focused on the narrative.
Fortunately, there was a lot of richness in the writing that was fun to play with. I tried to give my version of what would happen to me, and with any luck, that translated into what could happen if you had this experience.