“Do you ever have emotions you can’t explain? Have you ever lost control of these emotions? Do these emotions have a name?”
Three stock questions for purported sufferers of multiple personality syndrome, Julianne Moore’s cynical psychiatrist explains at the start of psychological thriller Shelter.
Hard-drinking and hard-bitten after the murder of her husband, Moore’s doctor Caroline Jessup thinks the condition doesn’t exist until she meets David (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a patient who appears to be housing more than one unique personality so utterly convincingly that it even affects his physiognomy.
It’s an intriguing premise played with escalating tension and surprise over an engaging first hour. Moore is intense and compelling as “a doctor of science but a woman of God” desperately trying to find a rational explanation for the increasingly strange phenomenon she’s witnessing.
Rhys Meyers squirms, contorts and gathers material for his acting showreel as the rapidly changing personalities of David and his body-mates.
Even when things take an early turn for the weird, as we discover the real David was “tortured to death by Satan-worshipping mountain witches”, all is not lost. But if there ever was a movie with a fractured psyche, this is it...
Shelter is the English-language feature debut from Swedish duo Måns Mårlind and Björn stein, based on a screenplay by Michael Cooney (who wrote the equally twisty but more fun Identity).
It’s a fine-looking film, shot in chilly greys and greens: rows and rows of pages of handwritten sheet-music pegged to a washing line flutter in the mountain breeze, the afflicted cough and choke, their mouths suddenly stuffed with soil.
Yet as the film progresses, its logic and sense dissipate, rapidly leaving a laughable mess about a 100-year-old priest, a crazy crone called ‘The Granny’ and more than a little questionable religious fanaticism.
It’s a shame extras weren’t available – perhaps the cast and crew interviews might have given some enlightenment as to what Mårlind and Stein were thinking and why an actress of Moore’s calibre would take on such an overblown project.
Watch to the end and you may find you’re experiencing emotions you can’t explain. Uncontrollable feelings of confusion, disappointment and disbelief, perhaps. A sense you’ve wasted two hours and you can’t quite fathom what you’ve just sat through.
Need a name for these emotions? Try ‘Shelter’.
A decent first hour turns hokey in an inconsistent thriller that’s a showcase for Rhys Meyers and an error for Julianne Moore.