Director    Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein
Starring    Julianne Moore, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Jeffrey DeMunn, Brooklynn Proulx
Release    9 APR (UK)    Certificate 15
2 stars


11th April 2010

Every so often a film comes out that suffers from what I like to call 'Stephen King Syndrome'. That's when a film has an interesting and mysterious premise...only for us to find out that giant alien spiders were to blame the whole time, or something else just as senseless. I'm talking about films like Knowing, Dreamcatcher, The Forgotten...and now Shelter.

Relax, though - I'm not giving away a major twist. There aren't any telepathic aliens, cryogenic dreams or pissed-off trees to blame. It's just that the movie starts off with some interesting noise about multiple personalities and the importance of faith, but then descends into a run-of-the-mill supernatural thriller with no real purpose.

The film begins by introducing Dr Cara Jessup (Moore), a psychiatrist who has based her career on proving that multiple personality disorders do not exist and that those who appear to suffer from them should still be responsible for their actions. In a typical this-is-bound-to-be-important-later piece of a back story, her husband was murdered years before and, while she has retained her faith in God, her daughter and father have both lost theirs. After a short while, Cara is introduced to Adam (Rhys Meyers), a patient who, rather than suffer from multiple personalities, seems to actually have different personas co-existing within him. While investigating Adam's history, Cara's own family become endangered and she is forced to question her beliefs.

So the movie establishes themes of the human psyche versus the human spirit - psychology versus theology - and this initially sets it above other thrillers by having what seems to be an intelligent and suspenseful plot. Tension builds as Adam switches from timid to intimidating depending on which personality is in control, and the fact that the transition first occurs off camera adds to the mystery surrounding his condition.

[gallery]But then, after a short while, we actually start to see what happens during the personality swap and it involves Rhys Meyers head snapping so far back that the only explanation lies in the paranormal. And, just like that, the mystery becomes redundant, because for all of Dr Cara Jessup's investigating, we know that 'other forces' are at work.

Personally, I blame Julianne Moore. Her involvement raises interest levels by at least 20%, despite the film looking like it would otherwise be a straight-to-DVD release. True, she is still the best thing in the movie, adding undeserved weight to a fairly one-dimensional character and carrying the hokey plot through its more ridiculous moments, but her very presence suggests that we are in for a better story than we really are.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers does an adequate job of shifting promptly from faint-hearted to menacing but it's an asinine role that gives him just one responsibility: act creepy. And as the supernatural tone gets heavier, it never really becomes clear if he is a malicious fiend or just an unwilling participant. What is clear, however, is that Rhys Meyers has notched up one more part in yet another questionable film. In fact, Shelter joins From Paris with Love to make 2010 a double-hitter of distinctly douchey movies for the Tudors star.

There is at least some interesting filmmaking along the way from co-directors Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein (PR notes inform me that previous works include "Swedish historical action-adventure mini-series" Snappahanar, and Storm, "an action-thriller which was sold to over 30 countries worldwide"). Playing with the cinematic cliché of reflections to represent alternative personas, there are some genuinely inventive camera shots which keep the film seeming fairly fresh in an otherwise wholly unoriginal saga.

It's not enough to save the film though. By the time the credits roll, you won't be in any doubt that you have just seen a half-baked story with more than a few completely ridiculous moments (including one laughable epiphany scene in which a character uses impossible computer wizardry to extract a soundwave from grainy video footage). The upshot is that, while the film's conclusion doesn't quite sink to 'giant alien spider' levels, it still thoroughly deserves a place on the Stephen King Syndrome list.

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