Shelter attracted a reasonable budget, a more than reasonable cast line-up and seemed promising ... before it disappeared. It was initially released in several countries around the world throughout 2010 and a US release date was announced for February 2011. However, less than a month before it was due to appear, The Weinstein Company abruptly yanked the film from theatrical release with no reason given.
I had no idea what to expect of Shelter before I started watching it. It gave the good impression of being a serial killer thriller or psycho-thriller set around multiple personality disorder. Multiple personality themes are always excellent material for a thriller, not to mention a juicy role for any actor to sink their teeth into. Shelter holds an undeniable grip from the opening scene with Julianne Moore sitting before a roomful of sober men detailing a report she has written denying the existence of multiple-personality disorder interpretation in the case of a killer. The film continues to hold its grip in the scenes when she interviews Jonathan Rhys Meyers and her father (Jeffrey DeMunn) shows her how he can make him switch personalities by a simple phone call. There is a decided jolt as DeMunn first makes the phone call and the camera remains focused on Julianne Moores face and all that we hear from the other room is ominously loud slams and bangings, or the scene where she returns to the room and Jonathan Rhys Myers claims to see a number on a blank card and the camera pulls away as he suddenly stands up from his wheelchair. It is here that Shelter shows its smarts and the fact that it has read up on its modern psychological theory, in telling a multiple-personality disorder tale and yet deconstructing this enough to acknowledge the fact that modern psychology tends to discredit multiple-personality disorder as a phenomenon, before going on to place Julianne Moore in the place of a sceptic, not unakin to Laura Linney in The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), who is forced to believe throughout.
All of this stands Shelter in good stead. Unfortunately, the film fritters its potential away. Not long in, Shelter abandons its story about a psychologist examining a case of multiple personality disorder and becomes ... something else. The three dots in the last sentence are not there to indicate suspense but rather that it is not ever clear exactly what Shelter is a film about. It involves something to do with Jonathan Rhys Myers becoming taken over by the spirits of the dead, although why this happens or how he seems able to know in advance who will become the next personality is never explained. There is a muddled explanation that involves something about him also being an evil preacher from the early 20th Century whose soul was stolen by the Hill Witch but how this connects up with him having become evil and manifesting the personalities of people who have just died is not made clear. Certainly, well before the one-hour point, Shelter has abandoned any attempts to make a thriller about multiple-personality disorder.
Mårlind & Stein do a competent job in the direction. They produce one of two jolts and a number of amped shocks based on loud noises or shadows moving across the screen. Julianne Moore turns in a performance that is well above average, the level of consummate professionalism one expects of her, even if the role she is given is nothing out of the ordinary. Jonathan Rhys Myers does okay with all the sinister smiling, although the dramatic personality shifts are not as much of an acting tour-de-force as other actors playing multiple personality disorders Joanne Woodward in The Three Faces of Eve (1957), Sally Field in Sybil (1976), Edward Norton in Primal Fear (1996), Toni Collette in tvs The United States of Tara (2009-11), James McAvoy in Split (2017) have made it into. For all that, Shelter manages to be uninteresting. The turn to the supernatural is too confusingly delineated and ultimately surprisingly dull, while the twist ending arrived at is a groan-worthy cliche.