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Netflix’s In The Shadow Of The Moon could be the best Terminator movie of the year

Get ready for a mystery that (time) travels to dark places

Just a few weeks before Terminator: Dark Fate hits theaters, a new movie about a time-traveling killer going back to the past to murder some people is now out on Netflix.

In The Shadow of The Moon first channels its inner Lethal Weapon. From the blue-tinted color palette to the car chases to the funny and constant banter between the characters is like a greatest hits of ’80s crime thriller visuals. The action is set in 1988, where two Philadelphia cops, Lockhart (Boyd Holbrook) and Maddox (Bokeem Woodbine), work the graveyard shift much to the dismay of Lockhart’s wife. They’re investigating a series of bizarre and gruesome deaths where people drop dead from internal hemorrhaging, seemingly caused by three tiny puncture wounds in the back of their necks.

Lockhart eventually finds their suspect, a young and mysterious woman (Cleopatra Coleman), but they accidentally kill her during their encounter. Nine years later, Lockhart has been promoted, but has suffered a personal loss. That’s when the killings start again, and the suspect looks eerily familiar to the woman that died all those years ago.

Though the loopy time travel (introduced early on, so don’t worry spoilerphobes) and mystery surrounding the murders are the hook, what keeps it all together is Holbrook. He nails the balance between obsessing over the truth behind these murders and the grief and loss of sanity that ensures from that obsession. As the movie keeps jumping forward in time, we see Holbrook not only aging, but physically and emotionally deteriorating, with a big emphasis on his relationship with his daughter Amy (Quincy Kirkwood and Sarah Dugdale) and brother-in-law Holt (Michael C. Hall) and how it falls apart through the years.

boyd holbrook and michael c clarke in 1980s cop mode Netflix

With every time jump, director Jim Mickle’s style changes to fit the era being depicted. The cold blues of the ’80s give way to warm colors in the ’90s and David Fincher’s Seven-inspired camerawork and pacing. The 2006-set scenes pop with Michael Bay’s lens flares. Though not the focus of the film, In The Shadow Of The Moon features fantastic make-up effects that gradually ages the cast. This is aided by a production design that perfectly recreates Philadelphia across the ages, paying close attention to the details of the building, cars and even locations to make the city come to life and please anyone familiar with The City of Brotherly Love.

Without going into plot specifics, In The Shadow Of The Moon features a killer with a very clear motive for their actions, one that ties into the movie’s relevant political allegory. The rise and danger of violent nationalistic ideologies is an idea at the center of the story, particularly how easily ideas can spread and how difficult it is to shut them down once they’ve taken a hold of people. Though written before the 2016 presidential election, the movie has the years 2015 and 2024 as key events for a terrifying and very real alternate version of our reality. Even before that, police violence and protest over the lack of accountability play big roles in establishing the dark reality the characters are living in.

The problem with most time-travel logic is lack of understanding of how the science would work, and an overreliance on a suspension of disbelief. In The Shadow Of The Moon clearly aspires to be the next Looper or Edge of Tomorrow, but the more we find out about the world, the more holes the script pokes in itself.

In The Shadow Of The Moon adds an emotional and thrilling twist to the time-travel genre, one that focuses on character and world building. Though the ending ultimately falls flat of its premise due to its inconsistent science, there’s enough mystery and excitement to make this the best Terminator movie of the year.