John Fallon, best known as an actor (Saw II) caught up with us at FrightFest to discuss some of the very personal religious themes involved in his first feature, The Shelter.
STARBURST: What is The Shelter about?
John Fallon: It stars Michael Pare as man with a past gets trapped in a house and the house won’t let him leave.
Does the house act on him or does he project his feelings about his past onto the house?
I know what it means to me when I wrote it and it was purposefully done where who you are as a person and how you were raised spiritually would affect what it would mean to you so I don’t want to give to many answers. But for me he was led to that house for a purpose.
Who leads him?
Not the Devil.
What is your own religious background? I’m guessing it has a large impact on The Shelter.
I was a practising Catholic and then I let go of that because I didn’t believe in what the Vatican was doing in all the child molestation stuff. I was seeing how Man was taking the Catholic religion and using it to his own advantage and tarnishing it in my own opinion. So then I let go and then in time I came back but I’m my own version of Catholic.
What age did you let go?
In my twenties.
Was the Vatican thing something you kept tabs on?
Yes, I always kept tabs on things and read the paper every morning.
Do you do Bible study yourself?
I went to Bible school when I was a child. That was just the kind of school I went to. You get into class, you do the sign of the cross before class begins and you do the sign of the cross when class ends. Today, I have my own version of it and I try to focus on what I believe is the purity of the religion as opposed to the man-imposed aspects of it.
What would you consider to be the purity of it?
In the simplest way, I could put it it’s all about love and acceptance. I know in the Old Testament, people will twist it to fit their own agendas and there are stories that are supposed to be acting as metaphors and people take it literally but at the end of the day Jesus Christ’s message wasn’t about material things so it always kind of hurts me when I’ve got to go in a church and pay £20 and where I see the Pope with jewellery. You’re totally negating what Christ’s message was, I mean, what the fuck, man? Me no comprende amigo! Researching The Shelter and the theology in general, I just became more fascinated by it.
How did your research impact on The Shelter?
I’ll tell you the ‘dum-dum-dum’ story as I call it. The Shelter had a lot of weird energy. I’ve written scripts before and it usually takes me about three months and then I’m done, but with The Shelter, I had the opening, I had the ending and it took me three years to find the middle act. I was researching obscure Christian sites on the internet and my flat had a flood. My pipes were broken and the landlord sent this thin, unassuming Asian guy and I’m surfing and I’m trying to crack the second act of the script and he came over and said ‘Oh, you’re Catholic, you’re Christian’ and started suggesting some sites I’d never heard of and he went and finished with the pipes and that was it. And the next morning I wake up to like a feet of water. I went and rang my landlord and said, ‘Your guy, he did a shitty job, I still have a flood and it’s mucking up my day’ and the landlord says ‘The guy’s coming tomorrow we never sent him’. So that was one of those…
In the film you’ve got a lot of images of the Virgin Mary, why?
I’m not going to answer that but as you’ve noticed, I will give you what my DP came up with. In almost every frame of the film there’s a cross, be it in the streets, on a bird’s eye.
So you have the idea of sacrifice versus the idea of the sacred heart. You have a lot of companionship within the film. Do you feel that the main character feels guided the whole way through or that he has got to go through his own purgatory?
I feel that he’s pushed because if you look at the first 20 minutes of the movie, this is who he is – he’s an aimless man who carries a lot of guilt on his shoulders and refuses to let go of it and refuses to ask forgiveness and refuses to forgive himself. Once he gets in the house he’s forced to confront himself.
Does it feel a very personal film to you?
Yes, it is very personal. I’d done other scripts, but when I did The Shelter it’s like, no, nobody else’s gonna direct this. My own deal, my own relationship with Christ is in there.
Do you want people to have their own interpretations or is there a hidden thing for them to find if they want to?
There’s one interpretation that’s very popular. There’s another layer to the film that people are not getting so far. I took that from one of my favourite directors, David Lynch, and got obsessed with his film Lost Highway. When I set out to make The Shelter I want to make something in that same spirit. People have to find it for themselves.
Keep up to date with John Fallon at his website.