Shellter Movie Review
Written and Directed by Dan Donley
2009, No region coding (NTSC), 87 minutes, Not rated
DVD released on November 23rd, 2010
Cari Sanders as Zoey
William David Tulin as Doctor
Maria Olsen as Nurse
Zoey wakes to a nightmare when she finds herself in a hospital room without any knowledge of how she arrived. A doctor informs her that there has been an incident above ground and this shelter is all that is left of society. He tells her that the majority of the global population has been killed by a plague with side effects that include mutations and the re-animation of dead flesh. The only remaining staff is a nurse who has become psychologically traumatized and the doctor hints at wanting Zoey to replace the woman as his new assistant.
Other survivors are brought into the shelter, but either die in treatment or become part of a series of bizarre experiments. The tests are more for Zoey, in an attempt to learn how far she is willing to go in order to live. The primary example of such comes as a woman is brought in to answer a few basic questions, incorrect responses will result in an electric shock. Initially Zoey is only an observer, but is quickly positioned to administer the punishment. As the intensity of the voltage increases, Zoey is reluctant to continue until the doctor advises her that refusal to participate will result in her trading places with the subject and receive the pain.
Our heroine is drugged repeatedly and, when lucid, is subjected to additional psychological torture, as she is fed what is likely human flesh with a warm urine chaser. The doctor’s demands grow more ludicrous along the way as more “patients” are brought in for testing. Zoey eventually replaces the nurse, but her situation remains unchanged and so she begins to devise a plan for escape.
Shellter is a low-budget melodrama with a healthy dose of torture-porn added in hopes of making the film shocking enough to gain an audience. Although there are some strong performances along the way, the script is weak and the pacing lethargic. The limited dollars hinder the broader concepts of the tale and lessen the desired effect of the “shocking” finale.
Cari Sanders shines as Zoey, the tormented protagonist surrounded by a rotation of over-the-top supporting players who fill out the cast of “survivors”. Her main adversary in this film is not the doctor, but rather the script that forces her to comply with a bevy of demands that she manages to pull off winningly…even if it makes Zoey into a bit of a dolt along the way.
William David Tulin is the overly dramatic doctor who is burdened with the responsibility of running this base while trying to save the world. It’s a lot to bear on his less-than-broad shoulders and his character starts and ends with scenery-chomping theatrics. There’s a good performance in here somewhere but enough debris (the script, editing and direction) buries it before it can be seen.
Maria Olsen is a lot of fun as the nurse with no name, a sad creature that has lost all identity. The character remains mute for the majority of her screen time and yet she carries an authority with her that is both dangerous and intimidating. Her intensity overshadows the doctor, as any good red-herring should, but she is dismissed before she can make a difference. This is unfortunate as she is a welcome presence and the film benefits every time she makes an appearance.
Writer/director Dan Donley is a competent filmmaker, but his plodding nightmare is more likely to have casual audiences reaching for the remote and zipping past the talky-talky parts in order to find the next bits of the red stuff. The film has the vibe of an extended short film that cannot maintain the energy needed for a post-apocalyptic drama. Shellter is ambitious, but would have benefitted from a rewrite before shooting on the limited budget.
The biggest problem facing Shellter is that it is easy to dismiss the initial explanation as one of many lies the doctor is feeding our heroine and thus the level of predictability explodes through the roof before the film has crossed the ten minute mark…and that leaves you with another 77 minutes to stew before your suspicions are proven correct and you are left with an empty hole where you once had 90 minutes of your life.
Video, Audio and Special Features:
Video, audio and special features will not be graded as this is a screener.