‘The Shelter’ is Loaded with Undeniable Somberness and Stunning Aesthetics (Review)
Directed by: John Fallon
Cast: Michael Paré, Lauren Alexandra, Rachel G. Whittle
There’s an undeniable somberness that is rightfully associated with homelessness. The transient life often elicits one of two emotions: disgust (sadly), or sympathy. John Fallon manages to manufacture a story that taps into both of those emotions, while handling the material with class and care. On one hand we feel a great sadness for primary character, Thomas (Michael Paré), and on the other we juggle disdain for a man who’s all but put himself in this position, a direct result of some extremely sketchy decisions in life; how you perceive Paré’s character could ultimately be the deciding factor as to whether you enjoy the pic (personally, I have a deep dislike for anyone who falls into the infidelity trap).
The excavation of his personality becomes genuinely magnetic thanks to a series of flashback/dream sequences in which we get a far better understanding of who Thomas was before his mental collapse, and what – precisely – sent a once successful man spiraling out of control. These flashback sequences seem to teeter between astonishing and compassionate. But one of my few complaints of the film is that a few of those flashback sequences run a little long, and could have probably been condensed to aid the film in moving at a slightly speedier pace… although any trims could have led this one into a truncated territory that betrays the standard 70-minute screen time required to classify the film as a full length feature. Ultimately the decision to trim the story may have forced Fallon into the position of releasing a (lengthy) short film, and shorts have a much more difficult time in gaining serious distribution.
As for the actual plot details, my hands are, to an extent tied. There’s nothing good that can come from me dumping spoilers on potential readers, as this is a story that holds impact because of the mystery inside the story. But, for the sake of inspiring interest, I will touch down briefly on a few additional details: the film opens with Paré’s character ravaging a young lady, but those moments – moments that involve any affection – quickly dissipate, and we’re soon forced to understand that Thomas’ story isn’t going to become any easier to accept as the runtime moves forward.
Wandering the streets of an apparent ghost town (that’s figurative, for the record), Thomas finds himself drawn to what looks to be the warmest, most welcoming abode on the block. But this home, it has some secrets tucked away in the crevices, itching to toy with and manipulate the mentally weak. Thomas, of course doesn’t know that and he doesn’t exhibit much trepidation in entering the home. But that may prove to be a terrible decision, as this place will unlock memories that Thomas no doubt would prefer to remain confined in a long-locked memory bank.
That begs the questions: what is this house, and better yet, is this house even real, or a device designed to reach into the depths of Thomas’ tormented mind?
The symbolism in the story is powerful, and whether you feel this picture offers up metaphors for inevitable death – inspired self-termination – or outright loneliness and guilt, it’s all but impossible to view the film as a straight forward horror piece about a man down on his luck. The story is much, much deeper than that. In fact, the underlying statements of the flick may leave a few confused. But I’d implore fans to actually study the film, because there’s more than a single statement being made of the homeless, the battered human mind and the challenges ignited by attempts to right the wrongs of an individual life. As a result, there’s a very real human angle that exercises some sociopolitical expressions that may very well leave audiences feeling like they’ve been hit in the chest with a sledgehammer.
The Shelter isn’t your typical genre piece, in the slightest. A big reason for that stems from John Fallon’s intention to make a strong declaration with his feature film. And, while occasionally a bit convoluted, generally speaking, Fallon treats us to a unique and shocking slice of celluloid that looks and feels perfectly forsaken.
Now, as for the performers in the film, there’s really only one that’s going to leave you juggling a slew of emotions, and that’s Michael Paré’s alarmingly realistic depiction of a deeply plagued soul who seems to have abandoned all hope. I won’t share with you how close Thomas, Paré’s character, comes to falling headlong over fiction’s largest cliff, but I will applaud the man for successfully carrying an entire story on his shoulders; and make no mistake, this is all Paré, despite featuring a handful of strong supporting characters.
But what will become of Thomas as he finds himself trapped in a home that refuses to set him free and that seems designed to summon his every ghost, encouraging self-termination at every moment possible? That’s a question you’re going to be forced to wait for an answer on until you check out the film.
Fallon’s cinematic style (which truly is all his own) can be comfortably labeled as poignant. There are very few intricate scenes or special effects to contemplate, but that doesn’t stop Fallon from manufacturing some absolutely chilling visuals (the moment in which Thomas stands in front of this house of doom, is eye-popping). In fact, to be honest, the film looks equal parts simplistic and evocative. I can’t imagine that’s an easy feat to accomplish. The imagery is absolutely gorgeous, and the tone of the film is so bleak it leaves viewers clinging to some thin fiber of hope that somehow Thomas might find a peace that doesn’t involve him yanking his own plug.
I’m treading dangerously close to the spoiler zone, so I’m going to pull back the reigns and give you a few pieces of advice.
If you’re into profoundly gloomy stories that threaten to offer no upbeat resolution, The Shelter might be the movie you need to see. Also, if haunting aesthetics tend to tickle your fancy, then you simply cannot go wrong with the film, as it affords us a look at some images that could easily become iconic.
John Fallon has created a dark tale that nurtures the bleak side of storytelling (without a pronounced score, which only adds to the creepy factor), and that bleakness is introduced early, and never truly relents as the pic progresses. Fallon’s understanding of bone chilling visuals and his ability to transform depressing realities into heart-crushing stories is admirable and then some. Given the film’s slow burn approach, some fans will be left unpleased. For those of us seeking unconventional chills, The Shelter holds a surprise in store that’s going to leave a welcomed scar on the Psyche. The Shelter is a twisted psychological story that will leave viewers squirming, struggling to juggle some ideas far too intense for the average mind to process.
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