Thomas Jacobs is about to take a descent into Hell or an excursion into the Twilight Zone. Whether his host will be Dante or Rod Serling, he only has himself to blame. Nobody understands that better than the guilt-wracked Jacobs himself, except maybe the supernatural-cosmic forces at work in John Fallon’s The Shelter (trailer here), which opens today in Los Angeles.
It turns out Thomas Wolfe was right about coming home. Jacob regrets it, even though few people still remember the disgraced former Lothario. After a pity hook-up with an old flame, he braces himself for a night on the streets. A kind-hearted bar-tender offers him a spot at the homeless shelter she volunteers at, but that isn’t his scene. Instead, Jacobs stumbles into a well-appointed but apparently abandoned townhouse—as if he had been drawn there by a mysterious force.
There is rotisserie chicken in the fridge and good whiskey in the liquor cabinet, but the chain holding his cross pendant won’t stay latched and his lighter just won’t light a cigarette once he crosses the threshold. More ominously, the house will not let him leave either.
At first, Fallon seems to be going for a foreboding horror movie vibe, but the third act spins out into trippy Jacob’s Ladder territory. It is a strange film, filled with intriguing bits of business, like the blank Bible that seems to be writing Jacob’s judgement, in Latin, but Fallon never really takes them full circle. Still, compared to all the middling horror films that come and go (you’re not still around are you, ClownTown?), you have to give him credit for trying something original.
Casting Michael Paré as Jacobs is also pretty inspired. It is hard not to think of The Shelter as Eddie and the Cruisers: The Final Chapter. Frankly, the Cruisers sequel would have been much more satisfying if it had opted for a similarly mystically spooky tack. On the dark side, oh yeah.
Paré is pretty impressively world-weary and self-loathing as Jacobs. It is nice to see he still has the chops after all those unfortunate Timothy Woodward Jr. bargain basement productions (we checked out after Checkmate). It is nearly a one-man show, but Lauren Thomas (a.k.a. Lauren Alexandra) makes a memorable-highlight reel impression as Josephine the voluntarist-barkeep.