A homeless man who used to have everything and lost it all wanders until he finds an unlocked house which beckons to him. This house is perfect, food and booze waiting for him in the fridge, a warm place to stay, a nice bath … However, soon he realizes that the house will not let him leave. As he explored the house and spends some time thinking, he starts to question why he is there, what brought him to this point in his life, what he could have done differently? To give away more would be to do the film and the viewers a disservice.
The film was written by John Fallon, the writer of usually much more violent fare, and is his directorial debut. The story here centers on one man, Thomas, his past, and his “what-ifs”. The character is very well developed and even though he is nowhere near perfect, the viewer ends up caring about what happens, and happened, to him to get him to this point and what he has to do to get out of this house. The supporting characters do not have enough camera time to be fully fleshed out, but as they are present to support the story of Thomas, they are given sufficient depth. The dialogue between these characters feels real and not forced. Even as Thomas talks to himself at times, it sounds natural. The subject matter here is not fun or meant solely as entertainment and it shows in the writing and how everything is approached.
The way the film asks more questions than it answers and how it leaves a lot to interpretation suggests that Fallon knows his audience is not to be taken for idiots and they can handle a bit of thinking with their movies. To carry this movie, a strong actor had to be chosen and Michael Paré gives an amazing performance as Thomas. He imbues the part with an underlying sadness; the type of sadness that never leaves a parent having lost a child, the fact that he is also a widower leaves him truly alone in this world. His portrayal has nuances and how he interprets Thomas in the current day scenes and in the flashbacks is different, showing that the character has changed due to aging and to what has happened to him whether of his own doing or not. The audience also sees him change as he spends time in the house, reflecting on his life.
All other characters are there to interact with Thomas as he reminisces or as he sees the “what-ifs”, making their performances depend on his and the characters are a bit less developed. The standout from the secondary characters is Rachel G. Whittle in the short part of Annie.
The score by Shawn Knippelberg and music by Colby Huval fit the film well adding to the mood of it. Music is important in a film to this reviewer as a movie devoid of a score feels incomplete as music adds a lot to how the audience feels in any given scene, adding to what is on the screen and to the actors’ performances. That being said, silence or lack of a score on some scenes only can enhance them when surrounded by scored scenes. This is used carefully here and with great effect. So just like with negative space in an image gives the eye a place to rest and lets it concentrate on what is there, the lack of score on a specific scene here makes the viewer take the time to really pay attention, it gives them time to think.
Just as important as the music is the cinematography as how a film centered on just one character looks will heavily influence its impact. The cinematography here is by Bobby Holbrook and the film looks very good. A few of the scenes, like in the church and outside in a park, are stunning with good composition and lighting. The way things and people are framed or left out of frame can say a lot and here it is meticulously done. From a photographer’s point of view, this is an aspect that can make or break a film at times, particularly when it is less action and more drama. The Shelter’s look brings the film together, having a set of colors for the start of the film which are warmer hues brings the viewer in, and then when Thomas is in the house where he is mainly alone, the colors become cooler ones, colder ones, emphasizing his situation and loneliness.
The flashbacks and “what-if” sequences have a more natural light to them, suggesting happier times. All of this gives the film a look that goes with how the lead is feeling and guides the audience in the story and questions it creates. The Shelter is a film that is very opened to interpretation and from which each viewer will have their own take away. It’s a film full of questions and not very many clear answers, but it’s very worth seeing as it’s a well-crafted directorial debut made by a small team on a small budget which makes the most of it by looking and sounding great. Casting Michael Paré in the lead was a huge score as he can carry a film on his own and offers a top-notch performance at Thomas. This film is not a party watch, but is most definitely worth watching.