A SOUL-SEARCHING CONFLICT
Review by Ray Schillaci
If nothing else, director/writer/co-producer John Fallon is passionate about his beliefs and the conflicts that come with them. Even though he is inspired by Kubrick, Polanski and Friedkin, he does not mimic their style. Instead, he uses them as inspiration to lend a flair to his own unique brand of storytelling in The Shelter. Fallon has rested the weight of the world on his star, Michael Paré, as Thomas, a homeless man who seeks shelter in a mysterious abandoned home only to find that it may be his final resting place.
Fallon brings us insight to a man who has disappeared from life for five years only to come back to his hometown a shadow of his former self. From the first ten minutes, we take it he’s homeless, alcoholic, and probably fighting the personal demons from his past. Paré painfully embodies this human wreckage with utter commitment, but he does not play him as a human sad sack, which would be easy enough to do. He brings the conflict, and even demonstrates a slight bit of humor and warmth (in dream sequences and backstory), giving us an everyman who has made poor choices in life and is trying to cope with them.
As Thomas stumbles around the town visiting old flames (a younger woman, a dive of a bar, and eventually his wife’s gravesite), he appears to be heading further down the rabbit hole of self-loathing and depression, and even ends up accosting a bystander for a mere bump and brush with words. He eventually comes upon a large home with the lights on and the door open. An invitation?
Thomas is cautious, but desperate. He needs a place for the night. After checking the home out, he finds it vacant. But in his state of mind, he does not question some of the more obvious and mysterious tropes that go along with this shelter. Frames with no pictures, a locked door with a “8” painted on it (freshly), a phonograph that suddenly plays by itself.
Yes, he does question whether somebody is messing with him. As he acclimates himself to his new refuge, he flashes upon his past. We discover that Thomas had a good life with much promise with a beautiful pregnant wife, probably a good job, and a nice home off a lake. But, it all takes a very bad turn with one awful decision and the shelter is insisting on having him relive it in the hopes that he can repent. Along the way there are touches of horror and mystery, but nothing matches the power of this man’s grief, and the shelter is putting him through it again.
Writer/director Fallon has not delivered a happy affair, nor has he delivered a goose bumps thrill ride. He insists on a slow burn into one man’s damaged soul. He searches out the big questions that torture some and delivers visual Catholic and Christian symbolism that makes us think rather than squirm. The film is a paradox of sorts that can almost be labeled as a faith-based thriller. But with the subjects of infidelity, alcoholism, suicide coupled with open sex scenes, violence, and touches of horror, this unusual mix with its strength in faith delivers a taboo of sorts to a non-secular audience.
The same could be said with the new Mel Gibson movie, Hacksaw Ridge, as well, basically a faith-based film filled with extreme violence alienating the very audience that should be seeing it. Mel did win over a record number with The Passion of the Christ, but at the same time it was directly related to the Son-of-God, and one can only think that is how the non-secular audience accepted it.
Fallon, much like William Peter Blatty (The Exorcist, The Ninth Configuration), wants to engage his audience rather than just titilate and entertain. His shelter could have been an old dark house, but instead he gives us a more modern open home that is actually more ominous with its trappings. He could have delivered a straight horror film, but instead he opted to create a piece that draws the horrors from the sins that many of us could succumb to. Fallon opts not to give pat answers, but rather have his audience discuss all the possibilities and come up with their own answers much like a good book will challenge our imagination. The Shelter has been described as The Book of Job gone wrong, and that alone makes it a compelling affair.
Directed by: John Fallon
Release Date: November 4, 2016
Run Time: 76 Minutes
Distributor: Uncork’d Entertainment