The first act of Netflix's sneaky new scifi flick is some of the most riveting storytelling in quite some time.
A title card tells us our story starts in Philidelphia, our nation's birthplace, in 2024. We see an empty office, bland and unremarkable. The camera pans and we notice there's a breeze in the room. Odd. Highrise offices generally don't have windows that open.
Then we see the windows have all been broken. The camera pulls us, almost against our will, closer to the blown out windows so we can see the devastation below. A hole in the pavement, in the buildings. Smoke. Sirens. And then, a partially burned American flag falling from above. But it's not quite an American flag.
The number of stars... is wrong.
With that shot, we are hurled back to 1988 to meet Thomas, a young beat cop in Philly. He's working night shifts in the hopes of making detective, making his heavily pregnant wife pancakes at 10 PM. This is the story we were promised in the blurb Netflix provided. We heard about a detective who tracks a female serial killer over decades. But the image of the bomb-ravaged building and that wrong American flag hovers over this scene. We now know this is not a regular serial killer-cop drama.
The serial killer in question is unique because she is female. More so because she is black. Either of those aspects makes her rare in the criminal world. Both of them combined make her a unicorn. No one is sure how or why she selects her victims. They are normal people, working their jobs. We only know that the way she kills them is horrifying.
So when Thomas tracks her down, ending her reign of terror, that should be the end of the story. And it is... for nine years. The story once again jumps in time, well before we are ready, before we have processed what has just happened to Philidephia and to Thomas. But then, nine years later. The killing happens again. Is it a copycat? No. It is the same woman. The woman Thomas killed nine years earlier.
Part of the power of this movie is how thoroughly it catches you off guard. But as the story progresses and you follow Thomas in his obsession, understanding it while seeing the wreckage it is making of his life, something else creeps up on you. The terrible sense that you are watching our actual current history in real time.
In the Shadow the Moon predicts something a lot of us have been fearing for quite a few years now. And like all good scifi, it asks us to consider if we had access to the technology... what would we do with it? Would you take life to save life? These moral questions are never easy and this movie doesn't take the easy way out by making it seem as if they are.
Part of the reason scifi and other speculative fiction is so well loved is because it asks us to consider those hard questions. In an era of rebots and sequels and CGI nonsense flooding the theaters, Netflix has brought us some great scifi that makes you think and touches your heart. Most of my reviews include spoilers. This one didn't.
Because I want you to watch this one for yourself. To do a deep dive on this one would be to cheat you of the experience.