Directed by Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein
Starring Julianne Moore, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Brooklynn Proulx, Jeffrey DeMunn, Nathan Corddry
Released August 2, 2010 (UK)
Forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Cara Jessop (Julianne Moore), is presented with an unusual patient. She has been asked to see Adam (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), an abrupt and able-bodied young man who experiences periodic black-outs. He suffers from multiple personality disorder and his other personality is David, softly-spoken and a wheelchair user. Cara soon discovers that David died over twenty years before, the victim of murder. As Cara searches on, people who have been in contact with Adam begin to die gruesome deaths and Adam takes on the personalities of the deceased. As she works to uncover what happened to David/Adam, Cara unravels the secrets of a dark mystery.
Shelter is a supernatural thriller which spectacularly fails to thrill. The script feels lumbered and gets too bogged down in exposition when little is needed, and not enough when it is necessary. Nothing about this movie feels original and Michael Cooney’s script lumbers along, occasionally stumbling over its own clumsiness. Cooney also brought us the tricky and tense John Cusack-starring Identity — a solidly entertaining thriller with satisfying twists. But Shelter is more akin to another Cooney-penned thriller, The I Inside, which similarly failed to find its own footing. Neal Edelstien and Mike Macari, two of the producers of The Ring remake, are on hand with their production expertise. Like The Ring, a feeling of slow-burning brooding and terror is shot for, but the actual target is somewhere between boredom and tedium.
This is also down to the Swedish directing team of Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein. In their first attempt at a Hollywood movie (their first English movie for that matter) they have combined with director of photography Linus Sandgren to create an interesting — if at times a little too made-for-tv — look for the film. However, a slow burning investigation is what they are after with long single takes and a slow feed of clues, but some of those shots are too long and it feels pretentious. Much of the first hour stagnates and could have done with a little more urgency. Or a little more intrigue to keep me hungry for more clues. None of the scenes designed to scare reached such objectives and often a shocking reveal happened before any tension was allowed to ferment. It did feel to me like an excuse to try out some cool new European directors. They did an OK job, the movie looks slick but it’s just a carbon copy of so many other poor thrillers that nothing new was brought to the genre. I’m not saying I expect every director new or otherwise to revolutionise the genre each time they make a movie, but shouldn’t the whole point of making a film be to try and add some new ideas?
The normally excellent Julianne Moore staggers her way through the role of Dr. Jessop. Moore has long been one of the most interesting modern actors with varied career choices and a huge range of acting experience. Here there is no evidence of that and with Rhys Meyers the two leads are not able to garner much in the way of interest, intrigue, fear, nothing. It doesn’t help that Moore’s character, Dr. Jessop, is too soft for her job — she needs shots of tequila to calm her nerves after giving a tearful testimony and wakes up from nightmares of her patients. What is supposed to make us think she is deeply affected by these harrowing matters just makes us think she is not emotionally equipped for her profession. At other times she is so far detached that it’s like Moore phoning in her performance of a doctor who is phoning in her performance at work. Also, Jessop is just not very interesting. She has a great relationship with her daughter (Brooklynn Proulx), brother (Nathan Corddry), and father (Jeffrey DeMunn). There was a mention of her husband passing away some years before, but I kept wanting for her to have less of a functional family life or something that doesn’t make her so well-rounded to give her more appeal.
Irishman Jonathan Rhys Meyers flits between intense and embarrassing as quickly — but more often than — he changes characters. He tries on various American accents for each of Adam’s new personalities with varied success. The problem I had was, like Moore, Rhys Meyers just wasn’t given an interesting enough character. When the directors wanted a mean performance from Rhys Meyers they got one, but the character wasn’t ramped up to the level of evil that they obviously wanted through the dialogue and reactions of the other characters.
As the films draws nearer to a conclusion the body count mounts and so too the tension. Act three was by far the most interesting part of the film; the cutting was quicker, the story moved faster, and there were some surprising twists thrown in. If you can forgive the lack of build up and the sometimes frankly ludicrous revelations, there are some positives to be taken from it.
By this time however it was too late for me to care about the characters and I just wanted the end to come so I could find out what the hell was supposed to be going on.
Get out there and discover new things, don’t seek Shelter. (You think that was corny? You should see the movie.)
Three fairly brief interviews with Julianne Moore, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein. Nothing new or interesting here either I’m afraid. They each explain the movie, gushing embarrassingly and unconvincingly about how profound the film is and how amazing the other cast members are.