Shellter (2009) – By Emily Intravia

Dan Donley’s Shellter is an original, deeply twisted little horror film set in an underground fallout shelter following a devastating virus.

Zoey (Cari Sanders) awakens under the care of a seemingly kind, definitely creepy doctor played with extraordinary finesse by William David Tulin. His ‘nurse’ (Maria Olsen) suspiciously stumbles around the gray hallways covered in blood, her mouth sewn shut by her ‘concerned’ boss. Though Zoey senses a whole lot of strangeness going on around her (not the least of which includes skinned patients and mysterious meat), the doctor’s tales of madness and cannibalism raging on society’s surface is enough to keep our heroine cautiously sedate.

Occasionally, the doctor (his name is never given) heads aboveground seeking other lucky (or unlucky) survivors. It doesn’t take long for Zoey to realize his motives are hardly pure. Some patients are killed as soon as they demonstrate a touch of suspicion, while others are subjected to cruel psychological tests reminiscent of the infamous Stanley Milgram’s experiments.

Clearly Shellter is not a feel-good family film, but writer/director (and cinematographer) Donley has plenty of ideas up his sleeve. Though some plot points are a tad predictable, the story offers quite a few surprises, especially in taking some truly cruel turns that most mainstream horror movies would avoid. The film constantly dares its audience to look away, and though some of the gore is quite graphic, Shellter never feels exploitive. The film contains several gruesome medical procedures that will make most viewers squirm, but it’s the doctor’s perversions–sexual, emotional, and mental–that genuinely unnerve.

As the unnamed villain, Tulin gives a fascinating performance that somehow avoids ever going over the top. Sanders is strong as his victim/companion, particularly once her character crosses into a more physical role. The claustrophobic setting adds a lot to Zoey’s misery as the cold clinical hallways serve as a constant reminder of her situation. Though some of the final twists feel a little forced (particularly due to some of the heavy-handed survivalist empowerment dialog) Shellter ultimately keeps its audience on the edge, never quite knowing what kind of film it will end up being.

Shellter is now available for rental or purchase on DVD through IndieFlix.com at http://www.indieflix.com/film/shellter-31701.  To learn more about the film, visit its official website at http://shelltermovie.com.