Film RadarFilm Radar


advertise with Film Radar
Horror Film Blog
Jonathan Weichsel Written by Jonathan Weichsel
Nov. 10, 2010 | 3:20 PM

Email Print


Image and video hosting by TinyPic

By Jonathan Weichsel

I first caught Shellter at the 2009 Shriekfest. After the screening, I tried to stand up, but all of a sudden I felt dizzy and had to grab onto the arm of my seat and lower myself back down. I felt kind of like I did after watching Cannibal Holocaust for the first time. I was filled with misanthropy and disgust. My heart was racing and I had beads of sweat on my forehead. I sat there a moment, caught my breath, and once the theater stopped spinning I said to myself, "Wow. Now that was a great fucking movie."

Re-watching the film one year later on DVD, it has lost none of its power to shock, provoke, and disturb.

Zoey (Cari Sanders) awakens in an underground bomb shelter that has been transformed into a makeshift medical facility. A doctor (William David Tulin) tells her that a virus has wiped out most of humanity and that the survivors have transformed into murderous zombies. Zoey is safe in the shelter, but if she leaves she will die.

Unfortunately for Zoey, the doctor has strong authoritarian tendencies, and is a complete sadist. From here the movie does not go in the direction you think it will. The doctor isn't so interested in torturing people as he is in brainwashing people and manipulating them into torturing each other.

To accomplish this end he employs every scientific, sociological, and psychological trick in the book. He messes with his patient's sense of time by depriving them of natural light, and controls and severely restricts their diet.

The social set up of the bomb shelter mirrors Stanly Milgram's experiments from the 1970's. Milgram was interested in how the Nazi party was able to manipulate ordinary people into murdering and torturing others. His most notorious experiment was his prison experiment. Volunteers were divided into two categories, prisoners and guards, with Milgram acting as warden. After just a couple of days, Milgram was able to change the guards from normal college students into sadistic, authoritarian SS guards, proving that anybody can be turned into a Nazi.

In the doctor's version of this experiment, the lowest rung on the ladder are the patients. Next up is the nurse, the doctor's right hand person. Interestingly, a male nurse is referred to as an assistant. At the top of the hierarchy is the doctor.

By following the doctor's instructions, a patient can avoid torture at the hands of the doctor and other patients, get food and other perks such as clothing and a cot, and eventually displace and replace the nurse. Following the doctor's instructions, however, requires doing terrible things to the other patients. The doctor uses status and fear in order to manipulate his patients, and awakens their survival instincts in order to transform them into sadistic killers.

Shellter can best be compared to the Saw or Hostel movies, but it is more intelligent and insightful than anything in these franchises, and the extreme horror elements go much further, and transcend the mere physical.

The torture scenes will trigger a gag reflex in even the most jaded gore-hound, but what makes them truly disturbing is their psychological truthfulness. Because they are based on real life, these scenes carry with them a kind of credibility and authenticity that is missing from other films that strive to do similar things.

We have all seen so many scenes of rape, torture, lobotomies, and cannibalism that these things in themselves no longer shock. In order for these things to work in a film today there needs to be a relevant context and strong execution. The success of Shellter can be attributed to the writing, direction, and acting.

Cari Sanders especially deserves credit for giving a brave, nuanced performance as a vulnerable college student. The scenes of Zoey eating small pieces of fried human flesh and drinking piss are all the more disturbing because we see that she is really hungry and really thirsty. At the start of the movie Zoey is revolted by the prospect of eating human flesh, but as her character becomes brainwashed, she starts to look forward to these little treats from the doctor, to the point where she will do horrible things in order to get plate with a few pieces of human flesh, which she then ravishes.

And Zoey does some really horrible things in Shellter. She helps the doctor lobotomize a female patient so that the doctor can use her as a sex toy. Zoey does this because she believes that if she doesn't the doctor from raping her instead of the other patient. She kills a woman by electrocuting her during an experiment, in order to keep the woman from electrocuting her. She knowingly eats human flesh. But we still care about Zoey, because we see that the other patients are all too willing to give her the same treatment she gives them.

At the beginning of the film, Zoey has a strong aura of innocence about her. This innocence is slowly stripped away, and we see that within her, as well as everybody, is a survival instinct that will compel her do anything necessary, to follow any instructions given her, in order to remain alive.

The frightening message that I took away from Shellter is that humans are most comfortable when we are part of a hierarchy. We are all social animals, and ironically, being a social animal can make you do some very antisocial things.

Shellter should be seen by all fans of extreme horror. It is genuinely terrifying, suspenseful, and expresses strong insights regarding the darker side of human nature. To say that it is not for the weak of heart would be an understatement. I watch a lot of these things, and I almost puked both times I saw it. Shellter is a great fucking movie.

Shellter is available at IndieFlix