A middle-aged man in a hoody and not insignificant 5 o’clock shadow makes his way around a townscape that at once has the burned out appearance of any long-lived place but at the same time the hazy, quasi-romantic quality of Edward Hopper’s café painting, Nighthawks. The man is Thomas (Michael Paré) and throughout this film we see him attempt to deal with the grief of losing the perfect American life owing to his own boneheaded stupidity. This is actor John Fallon’s directorial feature debut and while it has some issues with hokey tropes, its overall vision is audacious.
Paré is the heart of the film. We see him move from emotionless, dislocated sex scenes through to a state of bitter desperation so understated as to not be able to muster the Lucifer to light his smoke. Following a ruck up with a cheap woman (any woman), he ambles into a house for safety only to be trapped by the memories of what his life might have been. At his best, actor Paré maintains a quiet but furious desperation. He always has a gruff quality suggesting he’s come too far to suffer fools, but at the same time some clever lighting often highlights the lines that puncture that handsome face, making him seem utterly isolated, realising why he was unable to learn from his mistakes. The supporting actors are also reasonable, though it must be said in each instance that the film works best when underplayed and often with a little dry humour as some of the showier segments do feel a little forced.
The salvation or damnation of the film is that it tries to hit too many bases. At its heart, it’s a psychodrama with some inventive uses of surrealist imagery that act to project the mental purgatory, complete with a lot of religious iconography, in which the drunk find himself. The neon lights become the power of Christ and his need to beg forgiveness jostles with memories that aren’t allowed to fade. He goes from grime into the outright sublime with a score that transcends its simplicity while the iconography and cinematography of the surrealist imagery allow the viewer to project their own emotions on to the sequences. Shawn Knippelberg and Bobby Holbrook deserve plaudits for the former and latter of these respectively. What is unfortunately misjudged, however, are the haunted house segments that periodically pop up. They are simply too overt to work in the context of a piece that is frankly more complex than cheap shots allow for and they often act to take the audience out of the narrative.
For all its anger and impressive visuals, The Shelter is a meditative piece about moving from confusion to the acceptance of something perhaps cannot be fully understood. Fallon’s piece is piercing as a disconcerting family dreamscape, if not always focused. With a little more clarity of purpose, his work may be extraordinary.
THE SHELTER / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: JOHN FALLON / STARRING: MICHAEL PARÉ, LAUREN ALEXANDRA, RACHEL G. WHITTLE, GAYLE JAMES / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW