In The Shadows is an old-school dystopia, like, 19th century dystopia. The central character is one of a community of miners, who live and work in the ravine of this quarry where the mine and its processing plant stands. Their entire life is focused on toil in this difficult and back-breaking work, for which they receive no apparent recompense other than food and lodging.
The visual style of this film is its main star, the set design, the props, the costume. It is beautifully ugly. Everything is mocket, decayed, rusted, or lichened. People sleep on top of old boilers or water tanks. Loose and snaking wires curl everywhere, powering the coal machines and the omnipresent surveillance equipment. Everything is pipes, or pistons, or cogs. Visually it reminds me of things like the geometry in Katsuhiro Otomo’s Domu, and the panopticon, and stuff like 1984.
There is an unseen management, who gaze on every aspect of their lives through cameras, and who are feared like the wrath of God. In their faceless omniscience, their random health inspections can lead to the termination of contract, or transfer, to a fate unknown. You daren’t get sick, daren’t get injured, daren’t slow your work.
The main character, the miner, is able to successfully pass off an injury at the beginning of the film, allowing him to question for the first time the powers that be. If they are not all-knowing, then they may not be all-powerful.
Tugging at that thread leads him to the possibility that the greatest tool oppression has is our willingness to comply with it.