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This Italian-made but English-language thriller is an expectation-subverter, whose opening minutes of beauty belie the ugliness to come.

Your first hint rears its head when our hero, David (Jake Muxworthy), stops for a beer in a mountaintop watering hole ... where a Ouija board hangs on the wall. The trouble begins when two rednecks (Chris Coppola and Ottaviano Blitch) harass a young woman/fellow cyclist minding her own business (Karina Testa, used to this sort of thing, having been in "Frontier(s)"); David stands up for her, raising their ire.

Outside, the rednecks funnel their wounded pride into "The Most Dangerous Game," hunting David and the woman through the wilderness, both via Confederate flag-adorned vehicle and their mean-ass dog, naturally named Kaiser.

You know what's going to happen ... except that you don't. As long as you don't go reading the back of the box beforehand, "Shadow" ventures into unexpected territory — the kind that has the potential to offend, but those people aren't likely to view a film such as this. The game-changer will remain secret here, but let's just say "The Human Centipede"'s Dieter Laser is given serious competition for the decade's creepiest horror villain.

Whether or not writer/director Federico Zampaglione realizes it, his sophomore effort visually references a wide swath of weirdo cinema, from Ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal" to J. Lee Thompson's "Happy Birthday to Me." (And speaking of visual, there's a George W. Bush sight gag that's wonderful, regardless of your political leanings.) The Italian influence shows itself most in a nighttime forest chase, where the rock-instrumental soundtrack kicks into high hear, not unlike Goblin working in overdrive in the Dario Argento oeuvre.
Zampaglione's work is far from perfect — even far from near-perfect — but it's different enough (frog-licking, anyone?) and intense enough that my interest and attention were more than held. In these days of so many cookie-cutter turns of terror, that's recommendation enough. —Rod Lott

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