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October 2010

Shelter

cast: Julianne Moore, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and Jeffrey DeMunn

director: M�ns M�rlind and Bj�rn

108 minutes (18) 2009
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Icon DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 3/10
review by Mark West

Shelter

Cara Harding (Julianne Moore) is a psychiatrist, who works for her father, Dr Harding (Jeffrey DeMunn), treating people with multiple personality disorders. In her first sequence, she's seen on the verge of tears explaining that someone wasn't schizophrenic and then feels remorse when he's executed (apparently in the time it took her to leave the office and get to a local bar). Arriving back in wintry Pittsburgh, she's introduced to David (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), who seems to share a personality with someone else called Adam.

The fact that this change is apparently a supernatural transformation - veins bulge all over his head and his neck cricks back at an impossible angle - merits no real mention by anyone who witnesses it. It appears that people who are related to the case in one way or another, however obliquely (Moore's character appears to be the common denominator, though that doesn't make any sense at all), develop boils and burns on their back in the shape of a cross (as it would be if Prince around his 'TAFKAP' period had designed it) and cough up ash.

Bizarrely, this seems to be a regular occurrence for most of them, since no one thinks it odd and then they die, to leave horribly fake looking special-effect corpses. Throw in a museum with working reel-to-reel film from the 1880s, a bizarre 'mountain witch' (called Granny, would you believe?) who crops up only when it's time to move the plot on, and add in that just about every character has good reason to lose their faith in God and you have this, an unholy mess that doesn't quite know what it means to be.

Now I've reviewed low-budget films before, I've reviewed straight-to-DVD dreck and I could have just written this off as one of them apart from its biggest surprise - Julianne Moore. All I can think is that she's either fallen on very hard times or her quality control department was having some time off. She spends the film looking haggard and grey, seeming not to worry that she hardly ever sees her daughter Sammy (Brooklynn Proulx), nor that said daughter has lost her faith in God following the murder of Moore's husband (he had his throat slashed, in a mugging, three years before, we're informed). So, when the climax kicks in and it's a case of Moore trying to rescue her daughter - ably abetted by the mountain witch who didn't want anything to do with her earlier - you sort of don't believe it.

And that's the real problem with the whole film. Playing like some kind of lost X-Files episode (with the colouring, especially), with dreadfully slow pacing, scares that rely on musical cues to get you jumping and strangely (considering the acting pedigree on show) lacklustre acting, it's no surprise to discover (as I did, after looking it up) that this sat on a shelf for over two years.

The direction (bearing in mind that two people were behind the camera) is pedestrian at best - there are some neat camera tricks with mirrors, but Coppola (for one) did them much better when he was being flashy in the 1980s - and the locations all have that familiar feel to them (not just X-Files, but The Ring as well), and people spend so long talking about how they've lost faith in God, I expected a co-producer credit to come up with the name of a church.

The screenplay, by Michael Cooney, is full of enough speeches and moments to let you know that he's researched what his characters are talking about, but you never get the sense that he believes any of it. Perhaps the fact that he wrote Identity is a clue - a one-trick pony who works on sleight-of-hand that isn't clever, but just gets the viewer irate. Witness the final scene - we know exactly what's going to happen, because of the music and the fact that the little girl's eyes don't look right - but the film seems to think we won't guess. I read somewhere that people in Hollywood can make a living from writing un-produced screenplays - as I don't wish unemployment on Mr Cooney, I'd suggest this might be a viable alternative career because he's going to owe a lot of people 108 minutes of their lives after this.

Having said all that, there was one bright spark moment. Somehow, Dr Harding has CCTV footage of David/ Adam in a bed (though he has his own house and is free to come and go as he pleases), when a black shape appears to enter the room. We, the audience, are subjected to this sequence a fair few times and sort of assume that it's a ghost. Then, for reasons far too complicated to go into her, Moore's musician brother realises that the black shape is actually a sound wave! Yes! A sound wave is visible on video. I mean, come on, you could have made the film about that and, as stupid as it might be, it'd be ten times better! This film is bland, overlong, dull, un-involving and a complete waste of the acting talent on display. Avoid.

There were, thankfully, no extras on my screener copy.



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