Shelter, starring Cari Sanders – [“How far would you go to survive?”]

Shelter - A Dan Donley film

A young woman awakens in fallout shelter and finds she must do unspeakable acts to others in order to stay alive.

Zoey, (Cari Sanders) awakens in the medical facility of an underground fallout shelter. The Doctor, (Will Tulin) explains that an infection has killed most of the population. The only people left are either a few lone survivors like her and the infected: The living dead.

The Doctor is assisted by a Nurse, (Maria Olsen) who it seems has gone completely insane. They “treat” a steady stream of survivors/patients. The only way of “curing” the infection is by surgically removing the affected area, which leads to gruesome results.

The Doctor wants Zoey to replace the unstable Nurse and become his new assistant. Zoey is very hesitant to join the Doctor who is willing to do whatever it takes to survive, no matter how questionable or terrible the acts.

But after a patient offers to trade places with Zoey and do “anything” the Doctor wants, Zoey realizes that if she doesn’t do it, someone else will do these terrible things to her.

Zoey has to decide what she is willing to do to survive, and the viewer has to make that same decision: How far would you go to survive?

In the midst of preparing for a weekend trip Zoey [Cari Sanders] is suddenly overcome with dizziness and faints. Men with gas masks move in and transfer her to an underground facility that was set up as a nuclear fallout station. Now it’s being used to house the survivors of a viral outbreak that had a 99.9% kill rate. A rare few dropped into a deep coma for days before awakening, untouched by the virus. The station is run by a bizarre and sinister doctor [Will Tulin], who is recruiting survivors for his own plan to restore the population of the world. He treats Zoey with kindness at first, but gradually his plan to subordinate her will to his own becomes clear. The question is, will Zoey agree to help him with his plan, or rebel?

The real experiments that this story is based on showed that ordinary people could do terrible things in high stress situations when ordered to do so by a superior. Shelter shows us, step by step, how such behavior could occur in an emergency. The relationship between the doctor and Zoey is fascinatingly complex, and the surrealistic, just-over-the-edge presentation of events works very effectively to show how a person could become a monster in a crisis. Shelter will make you ask what you would do, and will not let you off with any easy answers.

There’s a line from Videodrome that’s appropriate here: “It has a philosophy — and that’s what makes it dangerous.” On one level, this could be seen simply as torture-porn, with Zoey (Sanders) awakening to find herself in a underground bunker. There’s been an outbreak of something very nasty above ground, it appears, and she is now trapped with a doctor (Tulin), and an apparently insane nurse. However, as events unfold, it becomes clear that it’s the doctor who is the one who has all the issues here, and with the world outside out of bounds, Zoey has to decide how far she is prepared to go along with his psychotic actions, in order to survive. The answer is, much further than you would probably expect. The scene which demonstrates this most convincingly is one which explicitly evokes the infamous Milgram Experiments of the 1960’s at Yale, which found out that about two-thirds of participants would inflict what they believed to be lethal electric shocks on others, at the verbal urging of an authority figure. There, of course, the ‘punishment’ was faked: in the depths of Das Bunker and at the crazed hands of Herr Doctor – not so much.

This unique indie horror film combines elements of both torture films (like Saw) and zombie films to come up with one of the most disturbing and gruesome films I’ve ever reviewed. The film never holds back on scenes depicting psychological, physical, and sexual torment and leaves them burning in your head long after the film is over. The film is well shot and I really like the colors used in the film; they set the tone for the entire film much like the pale greens did for the Saw films.

If you’re not a die hard horror fan, I have a feeling you might not be able to handle just how brutal this film gets. It truly is disturbing and I thoroughly enjoyed watching it …

The ‘twist’ towards the end is not exactly much of a surprise – we worked it out almost at the beginning. Fortunately, this is not M. Night Shyamalan, and the movie doesn’t rely on it for impact [a double twist came to mind, which would have been impressive, if pulled off]. Tulin delivers a very unsettling performance, with every line and look conveying just how far gone he is beyond sanity. Sanders is less obvious, of necessity, and Zoey has much more of a character arc to play with, while the script is carefully written to work within the budgetary limitations [it’s almost all set in one location]. If it certainly contains its fair share of scenes that will make the viewer squirm or go “Ew!”, the progression of Zoey from victim to unwilling participant to active perpetrator should also make you wonder how far you might be willing to go, given the necessary circumstances and provocation. It’s probably no coincidence that the director has a master’s degree in psychology – and that’s why I say the film has a philosophy. This is what lifts it up above its retarded cinematic cousins, and why it’ll stick in your mind when Saw VI has long been forgotten.

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