The 2012 film, Shelter, opens in an ominous and sterile-looking room. There are bunk beds. There are shelves that appear to be full of supplies. There’s a table where people could possibly sit down and talk or play cards. There’s a shower stall, with a shower curtain providing a little bit of privacy.
There are also several people in the room. One woman is asking what they’re going to do. In the shower, another woman is crying. We can tell by looking at the inhabitants of the room that they’ve been in the room for a while and that they’re all losing whatever grip they once had on sanity.
And really, even though we don’t know what’s going on, we can all relate. We can probably relate better in 2020 than audiences could in 2012. Most of us have, in one way or another, been sheltered in place since at least March and — surprise! — it turns out that all of those “We’re all in this together” commercials didn’t make anyone feel any better about the idea of not even being able to go outside without having to first put on a mask. It’s not just the feeling of claustrophobia or humanity’s natural inclination to resent being ordered around. It’s also that it’s hard to be happy when you don’t have the freedom to live your own life. When someone is continually told that what they want isn’t important and that their fate is in the hands of some unseen regulator, who can blame them for going a little crazy? That certainly would appear to be the situation in which the characters in Shelter have found themselves.
The film flashes back to the day that five strangers first found themselves locked away in the shelter. They entered the room because an alarm went off. None of them knew what the room was but, shortly after entering, they heard an explosion and felt the ground shake. On a monitor, they saw a bright flash of light apparently vaporize the city above them. They also found a note that explained that the room was designed to provide safety from a nuclear attack. According to the note, they had enough food to last for several years. Of course, the note also stated that the shelter was built and stocked with two inhabitants in mind, as opposed to five.
We follow the five survivors as they get to know each other and as they adjust to life in the shelter. It doesn’t take long for them to settle into their new routine. There’s really nothing else for them to do but accept the situation. The room is locked and the doors are not going to open until a computerized system determines that it’s safe for the inhabitants to leave. They’re stuck together so they might as well play cards and just wait it out.
Of course, things don’t work that smoothly. The hours turn into days and the days turn into months and soon, petty annoyances become major disagreements. Some of the survivors seem to be content with the idea of staying in the shelter forever while others think about escape. Some start to wonder if there’s even actually been a war….
Shelter is a good thriller about human nature and just how much isolation and claustrophobia someone can take before they snap. The characters are all well-defined and well-acted and the film made good use of its low-budget, with that sterile bunker ultimately becoming as much of a character as the people trapped inside of it. The film ends with a twist that, while not completely unexpected, was still satisfying nonetheless.
Shelter‘s on Prime so watch it the next time you’re feeling trapped.