Shades is a found footage thriller written and directed by Nick Lawrence and Rachel Tucker, following the exploits of three young, male tourists during their vacation in Los Angeles. The three friends agree to do a favor in an attempt to impress a pretty local girl at the beach, and shortly thereafter find themselves stuck in an increasingly dangerous situation that pulls them farther and farther away from the careless coastal vacation that they had once dreamed of having. Shades is filmed entirely from the perspective of a pair of sunglasses (think Google Glasses) with an integrated video camera.
While these sunglasses spend the majority of their time on the bridge of leading actor Gavin’s nose, they do change hands several times throughout the film, allowing for the introduction of brief but intertwining plot lines. These multiple perspectives help propel Shades’ story along in a somewhat fast-paced and highly entertaining manner.
Shades’ opening shot is of the sunglasses cam being turned on and demonstrated to Gavin in a beachfront store in Los Angeles, California. Gavin is instantly intrigued, and decides on the spot that he is going to buy these high tech sunglasses to document his vacation. He films almost constantly, attempting to capture everything that he and his friends do.
As is expected, the trio find themselves in a precarious situation, having accidentally captured footage that threatens to expose a drug deal. The group plans to use this footage as leverage to escape the wrath of the drug dealers and leave California. During several points in the film, Gavin finds himself fleeing from the now aggravated drug dealers, where the footage decomposes to a dizzying array of POV shots of pavement, alley ways, and store fronts. Continual filming makes perfect sense in these scenes as the sunglasses cam automatically records without any intervention required on the part of the cinematographer. The video camera is essentially the POV of whoever is wearing the sunglasses cam.
Found Footage Purity and Cinematography
All of the footage that makes up Shades is captured exclusively from the sunglasses cam, which is worn primarily by Gavin and less-so by other supporting cast throughout the film. While this filming approach is clearly “pure found footage,” the gritty realism of the manner in which Shades is presented poses some challenges. Since the stability of the footage is at the mercy of the often unsteady head of whomever is wearing the sunglasses cam, viewers are unfortunately subject to extremely jerky and spontaneous motion that may prove a bit too much to bare for those prone to motion sickness.
Similar to Shades, the recently released film Jeruzalem (2015) also employs a head mounted Google Glass-like device. However, in sharp contrast to jerky camera motion in Shades, the footage presented in Jeruzalem (2015) is extraordinarily steady, while still portraying the telltale signs of a head mounted camera. We can’t fault Shades for its brutal cinematic realism, but there comes a point where the end-product must be massaged to make the film more palatable to viewing sensibilities of a wider audience.
The audio employed Shades makes a good effort to simulate muffled sounds one would expect to hear when the sunglasses cam is concealed under clothing or other obstructions. To the film’s credit, Shades gives the appearance of using inline microphones on the video camera as the characters’ voices clearly fade and grow stronger as they approach and move away from the video camera.
While the characters’ voices are crystal clear during their extended strolls on the busy boardwalk on beach, one would expect the ocean breeze, busy pedestrian traffic, and other ambient noise to reap havoc with the audio. Albeit a minor point, the clarity of the characters’ dialog over the hustling and bustling on the beach implies that some additional methods of audio captureor filtering are at play.
The seemingly organic and improvised dialog and chemistry among the the three main characters, Gavin (CJ Natoli), Seth (Stephen Goodman), and Michael (Leland Montgomery) is the main driving force that successfully carries the story and momentum throughout Shades. While the primary cast perform admirably in their respective roles, the same cannot be said for all of the supporting cast. One particular scene of note where a character visits his ex-girlfriend feels forced and artificial, taking away from the overall draw that’s painstakingly built-up throughout the film. The film also contains similar-minded scenes with supporting cast that simply don’t play out as realistically as the scenes limited to the three primary protagonists. These points aside, the acting is overwhelmingly positive.
With its uniquely shot footage and relatable characters, Shades highlights many of the desired qualities sought after in a found footage film. The plot effectively balances the mysterious dark underbelly of Los Angeles with the white sand beaches of this tourist mecca, resulting in an action packed and fun film.