Reviewed by Gareth Jones
Starring Julianne Moore, Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Directed by Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein
Distributed by Icon Home Entertainment
If you cast your mind back to 2003, you may remember the rather cool little thriller Identity, which, despite having more than its fair share of mainstream input, was a highly enjoyable and mind-bending piece of entertainment. The scribe responsible for Identity’s success, Michael Cooney, is also behind the script for the new supernatural shocker Shelter – but can he do it again?
The answer…well, yes and no.
Shelter opens with leading psychiatrist Dr. Cara Jessup (Julianne Moore) delivering her expert opinion to a judge on the subject of Multiple Personality Disorder. She believes it doesn’t exist and is merely a popular fabrication used by murderers and criminals to excuse their actions. That is, until her father (Jeffrey DuMunn) introduces her to a patient of his own.
Said patient comes in the form of Adam (a star turn by Jonathan Rhys Meyers), who appears to hold an ever-increasing number of alternate personalities. Things get very strange when it’s revealed that not only do Adam’s personality shifts also come with impossible physiological changes (one of his personalities is wheelchair bound) – but each and every one of them is either missing or dead.
Soon enough Cara finds herself and her family in danger from a supernatural force, the likes of which would move a little too far into spoiler territory to accurately describe.
Let’s just put it this way – for the first two thirds Shelter is actually a pretty riveting piece of work. The cast members are uniformly excellent, playing the piece with a level of conviction that will keep you glued to your seat. Julianne Moore – an actress that I normally can’t stand – forms a more than solid rock for the narrative as she struggles to make sense of Adam’s case. The absolute standout, however, is Jonathan Rhys Meyers. He effortlessly switches between distinctive characters, each with their own mannerisms, accents and nuances, sometimes multiple times in a single scene, and never comes off as hokey…well, until the end.
In the early stages of Shelter the ramping up of the supernatural elements comes slowly and mysteriously – piling on the intrigue and thrusting you back in your seat at the first violent physical metamorphosis (Adam’s head snaps back unnaturally, his mouth widening as the excellent sound design floods the room with screams). This impressive build-up begins to fill you with the hope that Shelter is really going to deliver beyond expectations.
Then the third act gets under way, and everything you’ve been hoping for goes out the window. Big style. Without giving too many of the finer details away, Shelter devolves into an uncomfortably preachy mess culminating in a lethargic through-the-woods-power-walk-while-shouting chase, a pathetic final battle, and ending moments so obvious you’ll be groaning to yourself long before they play out in front of you. From the moment the big reveal is made in some exceptionally poorly presented “old” footage (it looks exactly like it was shot on an HD camcorder and processed through Adobe After Effects), you’re on a one-way ride downhill.
This is a shame as directors Marlind and Stein had, until then, crafted a suitably enthralling piece of work with some great effects (both CG and physical) and a few nice ideas. Visually, Shelter looks excellent with some impressive lighting work, a few stimulating setpieces and a rock solid pace. The fact that it all falls apart so dramatically in the final act can only be blamed on the script itself. It’s like dreaming you’re eating some delicious chili – only to awaken and realise you’ve tucked in to someone’s colostomy bag: You’ll get a bad taste in your mouth for days just thinking about it.
Icon Home Entertainment’s DVD presentation of Shelter is almost impeccable for the format in terms of video and audio, though in this case you should definitely go Blu-ray to get the most out of some great visuals delivered by the directors. The special features include the theatrical trailer (natch) and interviews with Julianne Moore, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and directors Marlind and Stein. None of these is particularly interesting, to be honest, or add much to the experience. The actors essentially give the usual spiel about their characters’ backgrounds, and the directors do lots of back-slapping for hiring Rhys Meyers in a role he well and truly owned.
Give this one a try – maybe you won’t be quite so disappointed at where it all heads; but don’t say you weren’t warned.
2 1/2 out of 5
1 1/2 out of 5
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