What do you find horrific? This question can be answered in a variety of ways depending on the person you ask and their phobias. Most people will equate unnecessary death and bloodshed to scenes of horror, but others will say child abuse, spiders and peanut butter are the worst things they can imagine. So, when a movie like The Shelter comes across my desk, I have to ponder whether it classifies as horror-horror or a film that’s being marketed as such. Despite the trippy poster pictured to the left, the classic elements of the genre aren’t present in the movie and I found myself viewing a psychological drama more than a scary movie. But, again, what do you find horrific?
The Shelter is written and directed by John Fallon and it serves as his feature film debut. Michael Pare (The Vatican Tapes, Village of the Damned) stars as Thomas alongside Lauren Alexandra, Rachel G. Whittle, Amy Wickenheiser, Gayle James, Brigette Rose and Thomas Johnson. The film follows Thomas (Pare), a homeless widower, who seeks shelter for the night in a vast two story house with the door sitting wide open. The next morning, however, he finds that the house won’t let him leave and he is seemingly locked in by an invisible force. His captivity in the home forces him to deal with personal demons he’s been battling for years, but will he survive his stay in the mysterious dwelling?
The Shelter is a dark picture. It follows a morally corrupt, misogynistic man who has more psychological disorders than an entire asylum. His past wasn’t always the best, and his constant state of failure and let down has severely affected his ability to grow and love. By the end of your viewing, you’ll want Thomas to find some piece of mind, some sliver of hope that his existence isn’t worthless, but I don’t think he finds it. One must wonder if the presence keeping him inside of the house and the dark figure who appears and disappears at random are part of reality or mental blockers Thomas has created in his mind. The Shelter isn’t a movie about redemption, it’s a movie about remorse, revenge and reawakening old thoughts that should have stayed buried.
While I wasn’t sold on the level of suspense, The Shelter definitely delivers an emotional punch brought on by a terrific sense of claustrophobia. Even though the house is huge, not being able to leave makes it feel like a prison cell, even to the viewer. I can take this prison cell metaphor even further by mentioning that Thomas doesn’t know the thoughts and actions he’ll experience moment to moment, just like inmates in a holding unit. There’s an overwhelming feeling of sadness and dread to be found here, both for the main character and the people he’s wronged in the past. This mood can be seen in the choices made between the director, cinematographer, lighting department and editor to make the picture color appeared watered down and vague despite being during the day, bright or lively. The Shelter is a haunted house story where the ghosts are replaced by personal demons. Who’s really haunting who?
In between all the self hatred and claustrophobia, I also found that The Shelter has a certain level of experimentation to it, too. This can be seen mostly in the artistic shots of various women interwoven into the story. So, what do I consider this film in terms of genre? It’s got elements adjacent to psychological thrillers, dramas, experimental films and bits of classic horror. Is that enough to classify it as a horror title? In this case, no, it’s definitely more of a psychological thriller – so don’t be fooled by fancy marketing. What The Shelter is, though, is a one man show by an extremely talented actor capable of omitting every emotion in the book in under an hour and a half. It’s a dark, psychological drama that’ll hold you by the throat with stark claustrophobia. I enjoyed it. Final Score: 6.5 out of 10.