Life is full of moments, choices and perhaps a fate we are unsure if we control. We all commit sins and those sins can escape with no consequence but some can be catastrophic. Writer and director John Fallon (American Muscle and Trance) creates a spiritual journey of redemption in his debut psychological / spiritual horror film THE SHELTER. Known for his acting, writing and stunt work, Fallon presents what could be interrupted as a theater piece brought to haunting life on a digital platform. THE SHELTER focused on a character named Thomas performed by Michael Pare (Streets of Fire and Eddie and the Cruisers) who has hit rock bottom. Living a charmed life through many of his years, Thomas is consumed by his achievement and success letting his ego and lust take him unfaithfully outside of his marriage with what seems like multiple women. As Thomas puts on the mask of a loving husband and father-to-be with his wife at home, he slowly is unmasked by her and in the process totally destroying her. With one brutal and devastating act, Thomas is alone and loses all he was.
Lost and carrying the guilt and pain down a destructive road, Thomas goes from woman to woman, bed to bed, bottle of liquor to the next and surviving on scraps. Thomas comes across a welcoming and illuminated home one night which seems to be vacated. Attempting to make himself at home, Thomas finds that something is not normal about this house on many levels. Believing that someone is there tormenting him or something unearthly, he attempts to escape. The house will not release him as he is locked inside facing the ugly truth and betrayal of his indiscretions. With each moment that goes by, this home is forcing his eyes open to relive what is, what could have been and what will be. Is this a true pathway to enlightenment and salvation? Perhaps it is a nightmare that has been brought on by his boozes, guilt and psychological instability?
Blending elements of spirituality, horror and redemption within the faith based storytelling, you see a very complete film in THE SHELTER. Where do you begin with a film like this to show the impact and execution of the pieces brought together? Is it the haunting effect the lighting design created as it floods the house and is symbolic of a higher plane? Is it the score that taps into so many different styles, emotions or styles? Is it the cinematography that frames, flushes out the lines and truly reveals that torture and possible redemption? Perhaps, it is post production and editing which brought this film together giving it a larger than life feel against the canvas of isolation and reflective horror? Perhaps it’s something more…
For me, it begins with the casting and talent of the actor who brought this to life memorable and emotional characters. Has created atmosphere, conflict and tension with his performances. Michael Pare, for well over three decades has had a successful and cult status career. During that time Pare has had many different roles, lives and faces embodying what was needed for the complexity and struggle of Thomas. Thomas is a worn man that has truly has hit rock bottom in every aspect. This is balanced convincingly with the understanding of his craft as well as the transition from written to direction that why at times may be a shade overdramatic however in the scope of the film takes you to places that are both surprise and perhaps make you struggle with your choices and feelings over your life.
Looking at THE SHELTER as whole, I believe that Fallon was so personally immersed on every aspect of this film even without getting a credit on it. Taking on many positions including producer, executive producer, stunts, writer and director for the film, you see how personal and a journey deep within. It is presented in the sweeping and cinematic feel of the photography. The scope and range within many of the shots. The wide perspective of the graveyard visit early in the first act. The bathtub submersion that is simple yet eerie. The framing of the boat scene is stoic and telling. Fallon’s relationship with his DP Bobby Hollbrook is tight and telling of their mindset as we fully experience each shot whether intimate or more open.
However, these types of scenes are fully realized with several factors. The effect of almost dream like color and shading palate that at times explodes and other times seems almost faded out. An angelic glow and tone to the lighting that offers depth. The lines drawn up and leading by controlled shadow. Each of these elements creates atmosphere as well as life within the darkness reflecting Thomas’s fall from grace. Another factor is the incredible, fearless and unrelenting score that not only keeps you focused on the moment but infuses emotion into unsuspecting scenes. Hats off especially to the set design and art direction teams as you felt the inner workings of Thomas’s mind and spirit that was reflected in “the home”. The creation of expression and reaction that performs opposite of Pare uses simple yet effective techniques of expression and haunting that forges that bond as well as conflict. This is blended with transitions and arthouse style images that pull you from the reality within the house to different layers of dreams used as tools for Thomas to understand the truth of his redemption and rebirth along with atoning for his sins.
THE SHELTER does have its issues. The pace at times drags out scenes longer then they have to really stretching and losing effectiveness. The character of Thomas why compelling and conflicted in his purgatory is at times not a very likable character that makes me wonder why I want to stick with his story. This goes hand in hand with the cut away scenes of developing skies and experimental visuals that at times confused me and made me wonder if I truly understood this film to the level Fallon wanted. This was a huge issue in Bruce McDonald’s HELLIONS as after a while you did not know where the line of reality and the dream crossed.
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