Movie Review ~ Shelter in Place

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A honeymooning couple gets stranded at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and learns that there is more to fear than just cabin fever.

Stars: Brendan Hines, Tatjana Marjanovic, Kevin Daniels, Ola Kaminska, Jey Reynolds

Director: Chris Beyrooty and Connor Martin

Rated: NR

Running Length: 89 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  While it’s likely a bit too soon to look for any polished silver lining in the dark rain cloud that has been the ongoing pandemic hanging over the globe for over a year and a half, there have been a few glints of good fortune where indie filmmaking is concerned.  Previously, movies made on a small scale with a handful of actors and a tiny budget were either celebrated for their economy in production or shunned for lack of higher-end techniques.  Now, it’s that very sparse nature that is becoming a significant benefit to a number of genre films from the wanderlust drama (Ride the Eagle) to horror films such as Shelter in Place, a haunted hotel new release coming to your at-home VOD this week.

Occasionally, I’ll take a bird’s eye view of a movie like Shelter in Place and wonder if I’d have reviewed it any differently if the climate we were in had been different.  If this were a regular early fall time for movies, could an above average bit of terror like Shelter in Place rise over the noise to gain any traction over louder titles with deeper pockets for marketing?  Probably not…however that’s not to say the movie written and directed by Chris Beyrooty and Connor Martin is one to lose track of entirely.  As October is drawing near and the potential for more isolation of the winter months approaches, you may find yourself looking for exactly the kind of nerve-jangling frights Beyrooty and Martin have concocted.

With shelter in place orders being passed just as newly married couple John and Sara Burke arrived in the famous Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, there isn’t much for the honeymooners to do but wait it out until they can get home.  Thankfully, aside from a front desk clerk/concierge (Kevin Daniels, managing to never reveal all his cards at the same time – keeping you on your toes as to whose side he’s on) and a housekeeper/cook (Ola Kaminska, riding a nice wave of benevolent and malevolent) they appear to have the place all to themselves. As long as they are in their room by the time the mandatory lights out in the early evening, they can roam as they please.  So while influencer Sara (the adroit Tatjana Marjanovic, Great White, who gets more chance to impress here) works on her social media game, currently unemployed John (Brendan Hines, who walks, talks, looks, and acts like a schmuck but is relatable all the same, go figure) wiles away the day doing a whole lot of nothing hoping his new bride will strike it big and make enough for both of them to live off of.

Are they really alone though?  Poking around the front desk register one day, Sara finds their check-in information as well as that of another guest…even though they were led to believe no one else was staying there.  Convinced it was a misunderstanding by the concierge, Sara writes it off as an error of the pandemic but when the maid begins to display odd behavior and she starts seeing ghostly figures hiding in the shadows, she starts to believe rumors of the hotel’s hauntings might be less fictional than she originally imagined.  The more Sara learns, the further John pulls away right when they should be working together to find out who (or what) might be lurking within the not-quite-empty rooms of the hotel.

There’s a lot of standard-issue developments that happen in Shelter in Place, yet the film winds up quite entertaining due to the strength of the performances and the restraint shown by the writers/directors.  While we’re often tipped off to what’s happening and are able to piece things together long before Sara or John do, it strangely doesn’t diminish the enjoyment of watching the couple get put through the psychological wringer as distorted visions blur the lines of reality in such a way that they can’t tell what is authentic and what is fake.  It’s not perfect, far from it, but considering the resources and how bargain basement it could have gone, it’s worth making time for an evening to Shelter in Place.

The horror film SHELTER IN PLACE will be available on VOD and Digital September 14, 2021.

Pre-order Link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/shelter-in-place/id1580216980

 

Movie Review ~ What She Said

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When Sam decides to drop the charges against her rapist, her friends and siblings gather to stage a Thanksgiving intervention.

Stars: Jenny Lester, Juliana Jurenas, Britt Michael Gordon, Peter Evangelista, Paige Berkovitz, Jarielle Whitney, Christopher Mychael Watson, Lucas Calzada, Vaishnavi Sharma

Director: Amy Northup

Rated: NR

Running Length: 98 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  Being inundated with procedural television and slickly written courtroom dramas, we’re used to seeing someone traumatized by violence have their day in court.  They meet their victimizer face to face, say the right thing, feel empowered, and march out of the courtroom just like they came in: with their head held high and their dignity intact.  That’s one way to portray this journey for audiences that demand resolution and happy endings…but it’s almost always never entirely accurate.  The process of prosecuting a person accused of a crime against another is a scary proposition, made even more terrifying when you have to relive a moment of trauma over and over again.  It’s one of the central themes of the new film What She Said, available on streaming and VOD.

It’s understandable why Sam (Jenny Lester) is having second thoughts about testifying against the man that raped her and is considering dropping the charges against him.  That way, she would avoid having to face him in court and be subject to the ridicule and questioning that usually comes with rape victims by defense attorneys and those unwilling to believe someone could commit that kind of heinous crime against another.  With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching, she’s decided to drop out of the family gatherings and Friendsgiving plans, opting instead for a weekend alone with her thoughts at a remote cabin.

That’s where Sam’s brother Eli (Britt Michael Gordon) shows up unannounced at the beginning of What She Said, confronting her about the decision and asking her to reconsider.  Why not take the weekend to think it over because if she doesn’t do something about it, what about the next person it happens to?  The next day, Sam is surprised to see Eli has invited a few more of their friends and their significant others up to celebrate the holiday and offer additional support.  This pseudo-intervention doesn’t go well at first, giving Sam more of a reason to withdraw, but she’s eventually coaxed into spending time with her friends and brother over the next few days, time that’s spent discovering and rediscovering bonds that have held strong over time.  As could be expected, newcomers to the group find it hard to relate to the old friends, and Sam’s contentious relationship with her sister-in-law Harper, (Juliana Jurenas), reaches a boiling point before the wishbone on the turkey has time to dry completely. 

Written by star Lester and directed by Amy Northup, the film feels like it’s broken up into three acts.  The first two acts take place over the weekend at the cabin and the shorter third act plays almost like an epilogue.  For spoilers’ sake I won’t reveal what it is but it has some powerful, unsentimental, examples of speechifying that actually, for once, work without coming across as preachy.  As a writer, Lester shows a talent for creating realistic dialogue that pushes narrative forward and as an actress she convincingly conveys the emotions of her words without letting it get too melodramatic.  The film is dotted with a handful of fine supporting performances as well.  Jurenas and Gordon are standouts as Sam’s main foe and brother, two people that think they are supporting her more than they actually are.  Both are tricky roles to achieve in their goals without coming off as antagonists…but Lester takes care of them at the outset with dialogue, and they fill in the rest with considerate acting.

It’s become a bit of a mission of mine to round up holiday movies that aren’t totally “holiday movies” and I have to say that over time I’ve found Thanksgiving is a tough nut to crack.  Being so close to Christmas, the films often share a number of themes so the crossover potential is high – that’s why finding a title like What She Said can be a pleasant surprise and for reasons that far exceed it’s thematic nature.  It may delve into an overly talky middle section that starts to feel like scenes from an uninspired ‘90s indie feature (and thankfully pulls back from an ill-advised romantic coupling that feels out of place), but it quickly shakes off those dreary exchanges for some enlightening back and forth about right and wrong, should and shouldn’ts, men and women, and why we need to listen more when people are telling us what they are feeling.