When alarms are set off signalling a nuclear catastrophe, five strangers find themselves rushing to the safety of a bomb shelter which has been handily constructed in the basement of the multi-storey office block they all happen to be in.

Sharp-suited Hudson (Michael Patrick Lane) is the smug, rational one. He�s in the building to attend a job interview, as is sullen Chelsea (Joyce Hshieh) � who has a cool exterior which hides a dangerous temper and personal secret. Jeff (Jeffrey Green) and Marisa (Sarah Street) are a young couple whose marriage already appears to be on the rocks. They�re there to visit a newly opened fertility clinic. And then there's the building�s new security guard Tyler (Carlos Garcia), who just wants to get out so he can make sure his daughter is okay.

A computer scanner positioned beside the bunker's door can read the radiation levels of the air on the outside, and give the five captives an indication of how long it's likely to be before it's safe to vacate the shelter. The initial reading tells them they're to stay there for the next 8 months.

Fortunately, the shelter is equipped with enough food to keep two people going for five years (Jeff is able to do the maths, in order to divide the tinned grub effectively between he and his four new pals), a treadmill for exercising, a shower and toilet, a sink, running water, functioning air vents, beds and clothing.

On the downside, it�s never a good idea to put random strangers together and effectively incarcerate them for such a lengthy spell. Just see MY LITTLE EYE, CUBE, SAW 2, AQUARIUM etc for proof �

Over time, this group do manage to work together relatively well, developing routines such as cooking, cleaning and washing the pots so effectively that everything seems to function robotically. They play poker with a custom-made deck of cards, while Jeff is able to restrain his sexual urges due to Marisa�s reluctance to have sex so publicly. He clearly hasn�t picked up on the signals her and Hudson have started sending each other in the meantime.

Inevitably, cracks appear. Tyler injures himself, and becomes more determined than ever to get outside and search for his daughter. The others, convinced that a nuclear attack will have wiped out most of the population, are afraid that his exit will alert surviving scavengers to their safe haven.

Meanwhile tempers fray, relationships break down, people become more fraught than ever when the scanner decides they are condemned to stay in the shelter for even longer than they initially thought, and Jeff decides to be honest with Marisa about the state of the marriage.

And all of this is well before Chelsea spots something that changes everything �

I say "well before", but in actual fact SHELTER�s structure is non-linear. We�re constantly thrown backwards and forwards in terms of time, the film offering snapshots of what�s to come, and then transporting us back to the relative beginning of the story at will. One character, for instance, is noticeably absent from later timelines � but we don�t discover their fate until later into proceedings.

Such structures are more book-like than cinematic in theory, but they work extremely well here. It�s testament to the combined efforts of Wrion Bowling and Adam C Caudill�s writing and editing skills that everything gels together so well.

Bowling ad Caudill also direct, ensuring their tight screenplay and intelligent script benefit from savvy pacing and persuasive drama throughout. They elicit above-par performances from their cast: while Lane and Hshieh are the standouts, everyone on the screen deserves a mention. To utilise such a small cast in a single setting for 92 minutes could have resulting in something staid and stagey, but the cast work with the innovative, gifted filmmakers to ensure this is anything but.

On the contrary, SHELTER builds its intriguing premise well. What at first seems like an overly-familiar scenario soon flourishes with fresh twists (even the simple idea of a four-way partition in the middle of the room, allowing characters moments of superficial privacy, is effective) and characters are developed expertly, leading to some genuinely tense moments in the film�s latter half.

Production design is pretty impressive considering the film has a single set to work with. It looks small-scale, admittedly, but the HD photography gives everything an agreeable sheen. Noam Levy�s ominous score works well towards the claustrophobic atmosphere; the increasing sense of paranoia is cleverly built upon as events unfurl.

Even the finale disappointed a little, I can�t honestly think of a more logical one. I�d wager that the one used will probably improve upon repeat viewings. Fortunately, I look forward to watching SHELTER again � it�s not often you come across something so well-written, keenly observed and impressively performed.

The film looks great on Independent Media Distribution�s region-free DVD. A 16x9 widescreen transfer highlights the full benefits of employing HD cameras, boasting bright natural colours, true depth and fine detail throughout.

English audio receives a quality 2.0 playback.

A crisp, colourful static main menu page begins affairs. From there, a static scene selection menu allows access to SHELTER via 10 chapters.

The sole extra is a 4-minute trailer reel for titles available from Cheezy Flicks (an offshoot of Independent Media Distribution): THE TEACHER, EMANUELLE QUEEN OF THE DESERT and MISTRESS OF THE APES.

It would have been nice to have some bonus features relating to the film, as I imagine the filmmakers would have a lot of interesting stories to share.

Still, SHELTER looks great on this disc and is definitely worth checking out.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Imdfilms
Region 1
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review