Considered as horror, writer-director John Fallon's "The Shelter" is remarkably ambitious. It's a concise genre piece that doubles as a heavily metaphorical character sketch. Considered as an art film, though, it's both thinner and blunter than actual avant-garde cinema.
In either case, "The Shelter" is graced by the performance of Michael Paré, playing Thomas, a distraught drunk who ruined his home life and career with his addictions to alcohol and extramarital affairs. Now living on the streets, Thomas makes the mistake of squatting in an inviting house with a full refrigerator, hot water and no owner in sight. Soon, he finds himself trapped — unable to leave the place he broke into and caught in a fantasy where he's still married and has a lovely teenage daughter.
Veteran character actor Paré strikes just the right notes as a man literally haunted by his past. When Thomas gets a glimpse at the life he could have led if he hadn't been so selfish, Paré's wary expressions — half-giddy, half-heartbroken — are sublime.
Overall, "The Shelter" is a bit too clever for its own good. The hero's personal hell is too literal, and the movie as a whole is too slight, spending just over 70 minutes to introduce a guy who's pathetic in a fairly commonplace way.
Still, more B-movies could stand to be like "The Shelter," which at least tries to tie its darkness to something real. Vampires and werewolves and serial killers are plenty scary, but they have nothing on the fear of personal failure.
Running time: 1 hour, 16 minutes.
Playing: Ahrya Fine Arts, Beverly Hills