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Shelter

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Shelter
Released on Friday, Apr 9 2010

Directors: Måns Mårlind, Björn Stein
Screenwriter: Michael Cooney
Starring: Julianne Moore, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Jeffrey DeMunn, Frances Conroy, Brooklynn Proulx
Running time: 112 mins
Certificate: 15

The rain is crashing down and the mood music is awfully moody. It can mean only one thing - a psychological horror-thriller. Written by ex-Londoner Michael Cooney (Jack Frost) and co-directed by Swedish duo Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, Shelter has the outward appearance of a grownup chiller rather than a bump-in-the-night schlockfest, but sadly it falls awkwardly in the unlovely space right between the two.

The plot finds Cara Jessup (Julianne Moore) dealing with a new patient Adam (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), who is passed on to her by her father Dr Harding (Jeffrey DeMunn). Adam, it soon becomes apparent, is a man suffering with an extremely obvious case of multiple personality disorder. Thing is, Cara doesn't believe in the condition. It is, she says, a "fad", made up by some dodgy shrinks and perpetrated by telly and Hollywood movies (chortle!). Her dad seems to disagree, and Rhys Meyers has put enough work with his accent coach to get her mind wandering. What's more, when she does some bookwork on Adam's personalities, she finds out that whoever these chaps are, they're certainly more than just constructs of his imagination. With Adam running amok and single mum Cara still damaged by the senseless murder of husband years before, all the pieces are well-placed for an electrifying ride where things are more than they seem.

Unfortunately, the script simply isn't witty or sharp enough to offer any genuine thrills and spills. It's also far too hokey to provide even a smidgen of psychological intrigue, let alone terror. Worse still, the whole mess of a plot is glued together with the flimsiest of inquiries into the old horror fallback of religious faith. Instead of asking what faith is or can be, the concept is invoked solely as a clunky plot device which drags the movie further into a tedious mire.

The best supernatural thrillers earn the right to go a little crazy at the end, with plenty of spooky "is it? isn't it?" games with the audience teasing you along until all hell breaks loose, either literally or figuratively. Shelter completely fails to build up that tension from the first moments, so when things begin to unravel in the final third there's no gratifying sense of release. Instead, you just get an increasing feeling that the filmmakers don't understand the genre, or, worse still, don't think it's worth the effort of doing properly or with love.

In it's defence, there's a certain charm to DeMunn's Larry David/Socrates hybrid as the dad and Rhys Meyers's occasionally creepy Adam, and the film's saving grace is Julianne Moore - an actor so accomplished she could give hefty weight to a hydrogen atom just by talking about it. Sadly her presence, and that of the ever-reliable Frances Conroy as a slightly-unhinged grieving mother, can't do enough to keep things interesting for the seemingly endless 112 minute runtime. All too often Shelter borrows from the ideas and conventions of the pysch-horror without giving either them, or the audience, enough respect for it to work.


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