A homeless man named Thomas (Michael Pare) finds shelter for the night within a lavish abandoned two-story house. He eventually discovers that he is not alone and the premises won’t let him leave.
At one time or another when you’ve passed a poor homeless guy in the street asking for a bit of spare change, it must have crossed you mind how they ended up where they are. More often than not, most people put it down to either bone idleness or a lifetime of unsound choices.
In his directorial début, writer/director John Fallon embraces a bold Lynchian take to demonstrate just how perfectly feasible it is for an esteemed member of a closely-knit community to end up destitute and out on the street. To prove this point, The Shelter revolves around a successful businessman-turned-down-on-his luck drifter who is forced into confronting his demons – those demons being the very reason for the revulsive life he finds himself in.
5 years after his pregnant wife took her life because of his dabblings in “extra curricular activity,” Thomas Jacobs (Michael Pare) returns to his roost for reasons unknown – even to him it would seem. With his life having dived into a vapid void, Thomas has blithely come to accept his lots in life, with moonshine the best defence mechanism against the guilt that still torments him. Refusing to forgive himself, he wanders around aimlessly before “coming across” an apparently empty house – the perfect place to get cleaned up, grab a bite to eat and get some shut-eye. He couldn’t have been more wrong, and it’s not long before he realises the house summoned him there for a purpose. Unable to escape, Thomas is about to receive the sermon of his life.
With Pare in pretty much every frame, he deserves so much praise as he steals each and every scene and goes beyond the call of duty as both a forlorn vagrant and, later, a buoyant optimist, when given (what would seem) a second chance. For this reviewer, Pare had me thinking Rowdy Roddy Piper once or thrice and, at times, the role is pretty reminiscent of Nada in They Live – both films following a down-and-out drifter hoping for a chance to get their lives going in some kind of decent direction.
Where The Shelter comes into its own is when Fallon goes all sublime on us and transports the audience to the other side of a door in the house and paranoia kicks into overdrive. As the forces that be (or is it Thomas’ own guilty conscious?) peel away his sins, this luridly realised neurosis puts him to the ultimate test, reminding him just what a shit he was to his wife, fanning a false sense of hope back into his life in the form of some kind of psychogenic fugue where he’s given a chance to shun the forbidden fruit and prove himself to his family.
Well before this point, and indeed pretty much for the duration of the film, all kinds of religious iconography are insecapable to the eye, but it’s at this very point that the character’s, and indeed the audience’s, spirituality is brought under the microscope.
In interviews, Fallon has openly disclosed how he is a practising Catholic but in his own particular way. Rather than following faith as it’s dictated by the church, he follows what he believes to be the purity of religion. Accordingly, the film’s religious undertones remain apparent but they never feel overly preachy and, surprisingly and cleverly, draw out whatever spirituality we believe in, making Fallon’s intentions feel relevant to us in our own particular way.
If I had to nitpick, the disconcerting imagery in the house certainly works really well in terms of creep factor but the “things that go bump in the night” cattle prod scare tactics felt somewhat discordant with the rest of the film as Fallon’s basic premise is everything but about resorting to cheap scares to resonate with the audience. As it’s a film far more concerned with having Thomas confront his tragic past rather than simply scaring the bejeezus out of him, I felt it made things feel a bit uneven and imbalanced. Even so, this minor flaw is more than made up for by the subtle and lurking creepiness cooked up by Shawn Knippelberg’s disturbing score and Bobby Holbrooks ethereal cinematography.
Whilst Fallon’s film will probably polarize most audiences, as it boldly goes where most films daren’t – relating a somewhat incongruent tale that does anything but spoon-feed viewers; in my book, that’s the epitome of the kind of films people need to be queuing up to catch instead of the spate of Hollywood horrors that don’t even try to get the audience’s grey matter muscles flexing.
Despite the fact Fallon’s approach might turn people off, no matter what walk of life you come from, this is a particularly identifiable movie, boasting grounded characters and a premise that should reel you in and and prepare you for the much more impalpable second half when it kicks in. Such an ambiguous approach proved to be the perfect approach and the end result will find viewers reaching widely disparate conclusions; a sure fire bet for plenty of mental masturbation in the car ride home.
Words: Howard Gorman (@Howard Gorman)