Wednesday, October 19, 2011

30 Days of Fright - 18: Shelter

I used to love chatting when I was in school, and by that I mean talking in class. I spent several years talking about TV programmes, films, and other bullshit when I should have been paying attention to the teacher. This resulted in my taking home many a report card that informed my parents that I had plenty of potential (like every kid I suppose) but that I wasn't living up to it as I was unable to shut my gob. Now, years later, I lament that wasted potential, especially early in the morning when I'm getting up to drag my arse to work, like a pleb...

 Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus: Two Plebs

Julianne Moore takes the lead in Shelter (2010) as Cara Harding, a psychiatrist who, at the start of the film, is offering some last minute testimony to a review panel of sorts before a man is executed. As part of her testimony she lets it be known that modern psychiatry, herself included, no longer believes in the idea of true multiple personality disorder and thus undermines the last hope for the prisoner on death row. Once the bad man has been shuffled off, Cara returns to work, stopping only briefly to get herself drunk so as to put the events of the execution behind her.

Psychiatry runs in Cara’s family and she followed her Dad into the family business. He’s come across an interesting case and he asks his daughter to have a look. The patient in question, David, is a young man in a wheelchair who appears to come from a sheltered background in the mountains where life is simple and quite religious. Stepping out of the room to ask her Dad what’s up with the dude, she is stunned to find that a simple phone call made by her father to the man in the other room can trigger the emergence of another completely different personality. Wanting to call bullshit on this Cara investigates the case and comes to a rather nasty conclusion.

The second personality, Adam, actually appears to be the man’s true self and David is really the personality of a murder victim. Dr. Harding decides that Adam, traumatised as a child, heard the story of David’s rather gruesome murder and is actually impersonating him as part of a psychotic episode and isn’t really suffering from multiple personalities, as that’s all hogwash! With this theory in the bag, Cara makes the bold announcement that she’s going to cure Adam. She kicks off the treatment by roping David’s grieving mother into a visit. David’s dear old mum is a strange woman, coming from a very remote mountain community, she’s deeply religious and not keen on the whole science thing at all. When she visit’s Adam/David she’s initially shocked by the things David seems to know but then she walks out on the whole thing, declaring it to be an evil trick.

Dr. Harding then takes Adam back to the scene of David’s murder to see if her recognises the place. This sets off a nasty turn in Adam who manifests a new personality, one that Harding’s father was aware of but said nothing about.Copping onto the fact that her old man has been manipulating her into pursuing the case, Cara confronts him and is forced to look at the case in a radically different way then she's used to, a non-scientific approach that entertains the idea that maybe Adam isn't suffering from multiple personalities at all but something more akin to possession.

 After too long in Hollywood, Julianne Moore makes a balls of hanging out the washing

Shelter is one of those little known movies that has a couple of reasonable actors in that you occasionally encounter late at night on some obscure TV channel that is surprising because it's so much better than you expect. The film starts off quietly enough, building the idea of Cara Harding being a doctor with a very strong set of beliefs, whose very good at her job. Things move on into the story of Adam and his potential issues. Once he's introduced a couple of obvious plot points are thrown in your face a little, like the multiple personalities and it does take a little while to get past that and into the juicer supernatural elements. Once things get a little more sinister Shelter develops into a nice little horror movie.

Julianne Moore is perfectly believable in the lead as the straitlaced psychiatrist who has gotten into a professional rut of sorts by being good at what she does by conforming with the accepted ideas in her field. A chunk of the film is given over to how Cara Harding is good, but not brilliant, and her character serves as a metaphor for the entire film as it is surprisingly better than you'd think, but still had room to be more.

Jonathan Rhys Myers puts in a performance that's far better than you'd expect from him, but that's only because he's usually so shit in films (as anyone who saw him in Mission Impossible 3 can tell you). His efforts do wobble when he has to put on accents and mannerisms he's not totally comfortable with and I can only imagine that directors around the world must hate his natural accent as they always seem to prefer to hear him putting on a dodgy American one, even though he's brutal at it. Once you get used to the noise emanating from him in Shelter however he's not that bad.

The pacing of the first half of the film is a little slow but this is made up for the second bit, where witches and strange mountain folk are introduced properly. The supernatural elements are handled well, and the only really big disappointment is the scene where everything is explained using a film allegedly made in the later part of the nineteenth century that just looks too damn modern to be that old.

Shelter is a surprising film, but sadly it left a big chunk of its potential unfulfilled.

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for Shelter

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