What I'm Watching: The Shelter
Ever watch something, coming away from it rather disliking it, and as time goes on, you actually warm to the story?
Well, that's what happened to me with The Shelter by John Fallon. It's the story of a man who once had everything, but has found himself on increasingly harder and harder times, until one night he stumbles into a house for shelter but finds he is unable to leave, and then things get weird, metaphysical, and just a tad religious, as well as becoming a bit of a trial for Thomas's soul. It is an intriguing exploration of what a person who has lost everything is going through.
When I finishes watching the Shelter, I wanted to fling the disc across the room. It ends in a most frustrating way, after a most frustrating narrative. But as I yelled about my frustration with it, I found answers to questions I had tumbling out of my own mouth, and I started to come around on it.
Upon listening to the commentary track by writer and director John Fallon, confirming some of what I thought, but still cannily leaving many questions unanswered so the viewer can make their own conclusions, I actually came to conclude I liked the movie.
The movie stars Michael Pare (and almost no one else at all) from Eddie and the Cruisers, and the Starhunter tv show...what?? Look, I'm a scifi nerd, that's my cultural touchstone. *Ahem*.
Pare is easily the selling point here, and not just because the movie is almost entirely dirven by his lone performance. He really sells the despair that Thomas is suffering through, and when we see glimpses of his past, and learn what happened to him, you genuinely feel for the guy, even if his downfall is largely due to his own actions.
The movie plays out mostly silently, with the occasional other character or flashback, or Thomas talking out loud to no one or himself. The entire thrust of the story is on Pare's shoulders here, and he pulls it off admirably. One of my biggest problems with it was that it didn't seem so much as a story, but as I realised it was more of a character piece exploring Thomas in great detail, that was one main reason I came around on it. Once you realise the movie is very character driven, you pick up on the subtleties of the film making and Pare's performance.
There is one very lengthy scene in the middle of the movie, where Thomas falls into another reality (for lack of any better phrasing, and trying to avoid spoiling events), and while you get to see that even when given a second chance, a chance to live the life he always wanted, Thomas is still self destructive and ruins things again. I almost would have preferred just seeing a lengthy scene of his actual ruination, instead of a fantasy of what could have been, but there are, again, subtleties lurking in the scene that grant more light on why he is being given this second chance.
John Fallon does deliver a well made film. Sure, it is clearly made on a budget, but he makes the most of what he's got, including foreshadowing, style, and background detail that reward multiple viewings. The biggest problem is that the first viewing can be so frustratingly dense and obtuse, that less patient viewers won't give the movie another chance.
The Shelter demands its audience discuss it afterwards, dig deeper into it, and find the hidden depths. While it's still not a perfect movie, it does still have something going for it, including a remarkable and strong performance from Michael Pare. The movie requires work on the part of the viewer, and there is some rewards to be had there. I also greatly admire a movie that doesn't make things easy for the viewer, but do offer up answers when thoughtful consideration is given. This is not the norm for cinema, and while The Shelter stumbles at a few points, I give it a lot of credit for even trying to make a story like this, and demand more of the audience than just being a passive observer. I respect filmmakers who go the indie route and make the movie they want to make.
I can't say I love the movie, but I also do not hate it, as much as that felt like my first reaction. It's thoughtful and a slow burn, and while it may be hard to recommend the experience, I do feel like the movie is worth seeing. As much as I felt a deep rage towards this movie at first, I honestly see the potential for it growing on me over time.