Shiny Shelf


By Alex Fitch on 09 April 2010

Shelter poster…an excellent day for an exorcism.

With all the other 1970s and 80s horror tropes and films being remade endlessly in the cinema at the moment, the one film/series that has been surprising left alone is the Exorcist saga. With the exception of The Exorcism of Emily Rose in 2005, this is the first collision of faith and possession on screen in a while and in a year that threatens new additions to the Piranha, Saw and Elm Street franchises, it’s a relatively fresh breath of air.

Over the past few years screen writer Michael Cooney has been carving out a niche in genre movies for creating high concept scripts that give decent casts a fair number of shocks and twists to deal with on screen. In 2003, The I Inside gave Ryan Phillippe and Stephen Rea a baffling but intriguing time travel thriller to get to grips with while the same year’s Identity saw John Cusack, Ray Liotta and Alfred Molina trapped in a Hitchcockian motel stalked by an indestructible killer.

Both of these films and his new script Shelter start and continue well for at least ¾ of their running time, offering up familiar horror and fantasy elements in innovate ways that show the writer has an good appreciation of genre film and enough imagination to bring new elements to the table.

However, as they near their finales each of these films find themselves (to quote comic book artist John Aggs) rapidly approaching the ramp and the shark, as having come up with a good idea Cooney always seems to go too far and his climaxes are a shade too close to becoming farce.

In the case of Shelter, it’s a great idea for a film – jaded psychotherapist Julianne Moore, who believes there’s no such thing as multiple personality disorder (it’s just as well she didn’t see Identity) is introduced to a patient who not only seems to have genuinely disparate personalities but they even display profoundly different physical characteristics such as disabilities and colour blindness.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays her patient, and is as mercurial in this film as in his break out role in Velvet Goldmine over a decade ago, and their confrontations are charged and engaging.

Playing another world weary heroine surrounded by nutters does bring back memories of Moore’s miscasting as Clarice Starling in Hannibal, but she’s well chosen here and at worst could be accused of underplaying her role in this film, with able support from Six Feet Under’s Frances Conroy.

Unfortunately other members of the cast don’t follow their example – Jeffrey DeMunn in particular plays his part as her father as if he’s in an entirely different genre of movie – a Larry David /Coen brothers Jewish comedy of manners, perhaps – and after the effective build up, even allowing for the occasional over-anxious score telegraphing the scary moments too far in advance, the aforementioned shark jumping arrives in the form of an albino telepathic girl, a leather skinned witch doctor and some dubious psychic surgery.

However, reconciling these bonkers elements, which the film depicts as benign manifestations of faith and Christianity (!), with the earlier effective moments of suspense still add up to an enjoyable movie, even if the promise of a more serious film on faith, possession and mental illness got discarded along the way.

Some of the ideas in the movie may also seem familiar to fans of the work of Gregory Hoblit, as Shelter covers much of the same ground as his 90s films Fallen and Primal Fear, but overall this is a film that only fails somewhat because the writer packs too much into a slightly unfocussed screenplay, and as Hollywood is generally devoid of good ideas, perhaps we should be lenient on a film that has a few too many.

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By Alex Fitch

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  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Clapham. Mark Clapham said: Horror movie Shelter, reviewed by @panelborders: [...]