The Shiftling (2008) – By Cary Conley

Thousands of years ago some meteorites hit Earth, setting free alien parasites that can inhabit human bodies, sucking the energy from their host until they must jump to another host.  These aliens have been "shifting" from one host to another for dozens of centuries.  Mysterious runes that have the ability to annihilate the aliens also came with the meteorites, but over the years the runes have disappeared.  Now there is only one left to find.  A secret sect has been developed to hunt these Shiftlings and destroy them before they take over Mankind, but there is only one surviving member of the sect and he is dying, so he must pass the knowledge–and the mission–to his most trusted friend, Adventure Allen, so that he can save the world.

Watching this film reminded me of a poor man’s Indiana Jones, an adventure on a low budget, if you will.  It is also very similar in theme to Nicolas Cage’s hit National Treasure series.  We have the dashing explorer, "Adventure" Allen Monroe as well as his sidekick, Mason.  Mason is the last of the secret sect and passes the secrets of the Shiftlings on to Allen.  We also have Allen’s beautiful secretary, Zoe Kennedy, who is obviously in love with Allen and wants nothing more to take off on an adventure with him.  Unfortunately, she is more useful behind a desk than running through the desert searching for magic runes, which lends the film some additional tension as the viewer wonders whether Zoe will inadvertently sabotage Allen’s adventure or come through for him and actually contribute to saving all humanity.

Along the way we have the stereotypical evil billionaire who wants the rune for himself so he can sell the secrets to the government and make even more money.  His greed has clouded his judgment, for he cannot see that keeping the aliens around will destroy the Earth as we know it, so he isn’t so evil as he is misguided.  He has two henchmen, one of which is comic relief.  This trio spends the entire film running around and chasing Allen, every so often catching up to him for a Mexican standoff before Allen somehow manages go give them the slip once again.

Writer/director Taegen Carter has devised a very ambitious script for only his second feature.  Unfortunately, his budget limits the scope of the film, so what should be a round-the-world chase similar to an Indiana Jones film ends up being a two-location film.  The first half of the film is limited to the two groups chasing each other through the city while the second half is a trek through the southern California desert.  The desert locations are beautiful and used quite well, but the entire film is hurt by the limited scope of the locations.  This is supposed to be an epic chase film, but it can’t be without the proper budget.  Carter does the best job he can with what he has to work with but in the end, the feel of the film isn’t quite as epic as it needs to be. 

But that is more of a budgetary criticism than a criticism of the direction.  In fact, Carter shows himself to be a good director and uses plenty of interesting camera angles to keep the viewer on his or her toes.  He also makes use of a very good, if limited, score (every time action takes place we get the same piece of music, and since this is an action film, the viewer hears the same musical piece over and over).

The writing is also solid, if a bit ambitious for the budget.  It is obvious that Carter loves his pulp action films from the aforementioned big-budget epics to smaller flicks like Deodato’s Cut and Run and Amazonia:  The Catherine Miles Story.  The result is a fun and often funny–both intentional as well as unintentional–low budget afternoon digression.  Some of the dialogue, spoken with utmost seriousness, is quite humorous (i.e. "You hurt her and I hurt you!") while the evil billionaire’s goofy henchman is purposely written in to lighten the mood.

The acting is suspect, but the film itself is good, clean fun that the whole family can enjoy.  In fact, the kids may be a bit more forgiving than the adults who watch this one, and since there isn’t anything in here that’s offensive, it is appropriate for the PG-aged kiddos as well.  The film may not win any awards, but you could do worse.

For more information, go to the Digital Shadow Films Distribution website at http://www.digitalshadowfilms.com or the film is available at Amazon.com.