In the increasingly distant past of 1994, when arthouse hits were common, and entertainment magazines tracked the careers of promising foreign filmmakers the way rotisserie-leaguers scour box scores, Milcho Manchevski became a director of significance, thanks to his Oscar-nominated debut feature Before The Rain. Fifteen years later, Manchevski has only two more unexceptional feature credits, a music video, and an episode of The Wire on his résumé. He's become that unfortunate figure: a talented artist who hasn't gotten enough work to nurture his gifts.
Manchevski's third film, Shadows, is a respectable enough little ghost story, but it loses a lot of sparkle by being similar to such other guy-talks-to-the-dead thrillers as The Sixth Sense and Ghost Town. Borce Nacev stars as a Macedonian doctor who gets into a terrible car accident following an argument with his wife, then begins experiencing strange phenomena. He keeps encountering an old woman who repeats a foreign phrase that translates as "Return what's not yours." He frequently stumbles upon people disrobing or having sex. (He also gets a fair amount of action himself.) And nearly everyone he talks to seems unusually contentious and oblique.
In keeping with Manchevski's earlier stabs at genre pastiche—including 2001's time-jumping Western Dust—Shadows boldly combines romantic melodrama with Brian De Palma-style suspense. It's a very sensual film, reveling in the pleasures of voyeurism, and Nacev is a very sensual character, intoxicated by the play of light on water and the smell of dried herbs. Shadows is subtly political too, referring to ancient conflicts and scores unsettled. But the film feels so persistently minor, and so naggingly familiar. If Manchevski were making movies every year or two, and Shadows were his ninth or 10th feature, it'd be easier to count it as a slight, diverting footnote to a fertile career. Instead, Shadows is solid, well-crafted, and a waste of Manchevski's time.