Sponsored feature: Venture Cinema
Shimmer is a new sci-fi thriller written and directed by Rob Ciano.
Dr. Thea Kait is a forensic scientist with the Seneca Police Department. She is called to the scene of a crime by her friend, Detective Kurt Blas. There’s been a murder….or has there? The body isn’t like anything either of them have seen, and the widow of the deceased issues a warning: “It’s in the light.”
Soon, the bodies start racking up – and the remains are just as baffling. With mounting pressure from Captain Rose, Thea and her forensics team must work quickly to find the culprit….if there is one. The more evidence they find, the less it seems like a human killer. But what could be behind these deaths? How can they stop it? And what, if anything, is in the light?
A Q&A with writer and director Rob Ciano
Congratulations on the release of Shimmer! Such an original idea for a sci-fi horror film, it really delves into some new territory for the genre. Tell us how you came up with the concept?
Thank you so much! The idea for Shimmer came from a thought experiment. Many people are familiar with the concept of “fear of the dark”… but is there a reason to be afraid of the light? I started to think about different characteristics of light that could be threatening or dangerous: it can burn, it can blind, it can reveal things that were meant to be hidden, etc. I was also very interested in the concept of having a welcoming, well-lit area actually seem threatening or dangerous. Some of these ideas worked as plot points, while others became characteristics for people on screen. It was a very interesting concept to explore, and really shaped the execution of the film.
Tension runs high right from the opening scene. What were some of your methods for building suspense throughout the film?
Because the threat of this film exists “in the light”, I wanted to avoid jump-scares and other surprise elements as much as possible. Instead, I thought it would be interesting to actually SHOW why the light is threatening, even when we don’t know exactly what it is or how it works. Every time there is an interaction with the light, we learn something new, dangerous, or scary about it. The suspense builds as we come to realize just HOW dangerous this threat is, and how little the characters know how to handle it. When we reach the climax of the film, we don’t need anything to jump out and scare us because we already know the stakes.
Every time there is an interaction with the light, we learn something new, dangerous, or scary about it.—Rob Ciano
On top of the suspense, there’s also some drama coming into play between the lead characters. I love that the film features a bisexual character, something we don’t see often in the horror genre. Was having strong character development a focus of yours when creating Shimmer?
I definitely wanted these characters to grow and change over the course of the film, and as much as possible to have those changes stem from the metaphors of light I mentioned earlier – or a few other themes I had in mind while writing. In the case of our leads, Thea and Adam, there is a darkness hanging over their relationship, and part of it has to do with Adam’s past and his sexuality. At a certain point in the film, a light is placed on that issue, forever changing their understanding of the situation, their relationship, and themselves.
You really get a sense of the small-town vibe when viewing the film. Where did you film and how did you scope the location?
I grew up in a suburban/rural area in New Jersey, which really inspired the look and feel of the film, and we ended up shooting close to where I grew up. Our production team did a great job finding on-location spaces to use for the Kait residence, the farmhouse, the forensic lab, police station, and the morgue (which was a real, working facility, including “residents” who needed to be relocated before the crew arrived). We worked with a location scout for certain spaces, and for others, either myself or another producer would identify and contact a space. Our production team was spread across the country, so we were working remotely even before the pandemic – that just meant that it was my job to do the legwork and check out the locations physically.
The visuals throughout Shimmer are really dynamic, especially the attention to detail with the makeup and special effects. Who was behind the effects and what was their vision?
There are a few elements to the effects in the movie, and most are digital/practical hybrids. On set, SFX makeup artist Robin DiLapo applied practical crystals to the actors which were then enhanced and made to glow in post-production. Similarly, when dealing with the light effects, we had a practical moving light which we used to illuminate the background of a shot, and then layered the digital effect on top. Once we moved into post-production, I gave our VFX artist Brian DeMetz a description of what I thought each shot should look like, and we would work together to refine the effect. I really wanted the light to be beautiful, like a mirage drawing you in, but also have a threatening element to it, as if it might be sharp, or hot. At the end of the day, I think we achieved something pretty cool.
Audiences are left to speculate what brutal force, human or otherwise, is behind the carnage. Without giving too much away, what can you tell us about the threat AKA “the light” in this film?
There is a scene where Thea and Adam take a drive to look for clues. They find something, and Adam makes a comment about a “light monster”. Thea replies, “It’s not a light monster. It’s like an animal… a hunter”. In answer to your question, I think Thea is on to something there.