Shellter (2009)

Rating: B

Dir: Dan Donley
Star: Cari Sanders, Will Tulin, Maria Olsen, Adam Fleck

Firstly: yes, that is how it’s spelt. With that out of the way, 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.

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.