Shortwave follows Josh (Cristobal Tapia Montt, The Stranger) and his wife Isabel (Juanita Ringeling, The ABCs of Death) as they move into a remote house two years after the disappearance of their beloved daughter. Both are wracked with guilt and pain as they try to heal themselves and each other, but while Josh continues his research concerning the origins of shortwave radio frequencies in the enclosed space, Isabel begins to experience insane hallucinations that further her grief.
Before I continue with this review I have to acknowledge the ambiguity in the previews that allude to Josh researching the ‘theory of the origins of shortwave radio frequencies.’ I read this before I watched the film and even after Shortwave concluded I was still unaware of what the film was actually alluding to. However, some research after watching Shortwave considering the plot and some theories out there the only thing that makes sense is that they are alluding to theories that suggest some shortwave radio frequencies have interstellar origins and sometimes they make their way back to earth. I felt that this explanation was necessary because this is one of the many questions that is left unanswered.
Shortwave is an interesting arthouse-esque film that has most of the elements of a fantastic suspense, horror film, but there are some big holes that stand in the way of it realizing its potential. For instance, Juanita Ringeling is fantastic and she most deservedly won Best Actress at two separate film festivals for her portrayal of Isabel. Her acting as the grieving, out of sorts wife is intense, compelling, and she makes an emotional connection with the audience. Her grief-stricken behavior opens the door for some of the darker occurrences in Shortwave, as those surrounding her believe that she is just dealing with the loss of her daughter. And that keeps them from realizing that her odd behavior is a result of her insane hallucinations. However, Isabel’s character is undermined by the other characters in the film, most notably her husband. Because, while Isabel is passionate, fiery, and a fighter, Josh is a flat, milquetoast pancake that is unlikeable and makes a lot of decisions that make no sense. For instance, during a confrontation between two characters, one character stabs another, but after the stabbing scene, the viewer finds out that the characters have done nothing about the incident. Instead, when Josh is asked if the victim is ok, his answer is: “I guess.” And makes no mention of any sort of emergency services that were called in to help the victim.
While this scene can be seen as trivial, all you would have had to say is that you already called 9-1-1 and that it was handled by the proper authorities, but the choice to make it ambiguous and ignore the fact that this is a serious issue was a poor decision. There are other instances of Josh saying ridiculous things that make him unlikeable or unbelievable as a character, but I blame that more on the spirit and directing rather than the actor. Cristobal Tapia Montt is giving his all in this film and you can see this when he is dealing with his grieving wife, but passion on the actor’s part isn’t enough, there needs to be substance from the writing there.
There are also poor decisions in Shortwave made around music and sound design which take away from the scenes in which they are featured. For example, Josh is disclosing to a colleague something dangerous and something that has enough consequences for his work and potentially the human race, but instead of having creepy or suspenseful music playing up until the point of the big reveal (and big bass drop in music) there is happy music playing that makes absolutely no sense within the context of the scene. This lighter music makes for a stark juxtaposition between what Josh is saying and what the music is doing and this takes away Josh’s thunder as well as the impact of the scene. There are other instances where the music gets in the way or sometimes drowns out dialogue, as well.
Shortwave is a slow burning movie that could have had an excellent pay off at the end, but unfortunately, it seemed rushed and filled with nonsense dialogue from a single character. While Junaita Ringeling brings a haunting performance that will stick with you through the end, you will be left with more questions than answers about everything that you just watched. This could have been a contender, a fantastic independent movie, but small mistakes kept that from happening. If you are interested in seeing what I mean, feel free to check it out on VOD starting October 24th, but honestly, you can skip this one.
WICKED RATING: 4/10
Director(s): Ryan Gregory Phillips
Writer(s): Ryan Gregory Phillips
Stars: Juanita Ringeling, Cristobal Tapia Montt, Sara Malakul Lane, Jay Ellis, and Kyle Davis
Release: October 24 VOD
Studio/ Production Co: Vega Baby and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment