★ / ★★★★
Four frisky, fun-loving friends (Stacia Crawford, Tricia Small, Allison Dunbar, Jonathan Frappier) are en route to their vacation spot. The girls crave to have some testosterone in the van so they pick up two hunky surfers (Nick Stabile, Scott Damian) who need a ride to the next town. Unfortunately, there is a big storm so they decide to stop driving in order to prevent an accident. They find refuge in a bar called “Hideaway,” owned by Joey (Gerald Downey) and Billy (Manoel Hudec). Little do they know that Joey is a serial killer.
“Sheltered,” written by Matthew Murray, Josh Stoddard, and Marc Whitehead, is a horror film with an identity crisis. Its idea of building a rising action consists of putting its characters in embarrassing situations. Admittedly, I laughed. There is something very college-y about drunk friends deciding to watch two people, also drunk, make out and grope each other extensively on the living room floor.
Some of the laughs are situational, as just mentioned, while most are directed at the characters. Jen (Crawford), the protagonist, has a humongous crush on Joey, clean-cut, respectful, and somewhat awkward. Their idea of flirtation is to stare into each other’s eyes and bat their eyelashes before the other gets a chance to leave the room. When they touch, we hear them holding their breaths and eventually letting go. It is similar to watching a bad romance novel slowly and painfully coming to life. As a result, half of the movie is largely unexciting despite being interrupted by quick bursts of violence.
The victims are stock characters who enter the screen for the sake of being smacked in the skull with a bat. The most interesting questions are either ignored altogether or very lightly tackled. For example, Jen has the ability to see ghosts and the past. (Why not? The screenplay is already a mess.) As she touches herself and fantasizes about making love with Joey, she opens her eyes and sees a ghost staring at her very intently, almost angrily.
It could have been the turning point of the story. The filmmakers should have immediately taken control by giving us some answers. Is Jen always able to see ghosts or does the house trigger something from inside her? Why does she not express much concern to any of her friends? Instead, just as the next scene arrives, it seems like she has forgotten about her supernatural experience. Her attention is back on how much she wants to get intimate with a man. It is insulting.
To have a character we can root for until the very end, especially in horror movies, she must have an iota of smarts, creativity, and proactivity. Jen does not embody such qualities. Or any of the supporting characters. When they find a dead girl (Heather Loschiavo) in the bathtub, they assume she has committed suicide by slashing her wrists. Blood is all over the shower curtains. It does not take a blood spatter analyst to offer an alternative explanation that perhaps there had been a struggle.
“Sheltered,” directed by Josh Stoddard, has the potential to create an atmosphere of paranoia and claustrophobia considering its characters are essentially stuck in a big house for one night. But like Billy, Joey’s drug dealer brother, it has no ambition.