Review: Shelter

Shelter, directed by Patrick Gather and Markus Meedt, is a dramatic short set in the Netherlands near the end of World War 2. Its plot centers on three British paratroopers, Private Charlie Miller (Jack O’Connell), Lance Corporal Frank Ainsworth (Michael Smiley), and Corporal Arthur Boleyn (Ed Stoppard), survivors of the failed Operation Market Garden who find themselves stranded in a vast,  unfamiliar forest.

In search of a location to rest and treat Ainsworth’s wounded leg, when the three discover a secluded house seemingly inhabited only by a mother and daughter (Jude de Bont and Elka de Witt) they decide that it seems safe enough. Maybe it would be if it weren’t for the arrival of two German soldiers (Matt Ray Brown and Carsten Garbode) shortly thereafter.

Initially, I didn’t quite understand the decision to have characters speaking three distinct languages without including a single subtitle. Even with the advantage of understanding two of them decently well, there were nuisances I surely missed out on. Now, I think that was the point. We, the viewers, are supposed to be experiencing this from the perspective of the British soldiers who have as little understanding of Dutch and German as we are likely to and are therefore just as confused.

Shooting on 35mm, a practice which has sadly gone out of style in recent years, provides a warmth that only comes with authentic film grain. Everything feels more real, more alive. Several times, I had to remind myself that I wasn’t watching a sneak peek or deleted scene from a 3-hour war epic. That is exactly what Shelter looks like.

There is no evidence of the film’s shoestring budget other than its length. Not a single casting choice seems based on convenience. No setting, costume or prop appears inappropriate for the period or location (at least to my non-expert eyes). Even the few elements that are almost certainly digital effects don’t come across as aggressively fake.

As with any well-written and skillfully produced short, I wish it had been longer though I can’t say for sure where they would have gone from there.

Going in, I wasn’t optimistic that I could enjoy Shelter. War movies aren’t generally my genre. I don’t like the thought of glorifying horrific events that shouldn’t be necessary. But Shelter doesn’t glorify the war, it honors a moment in the lives of the seven people who’ve found themselves in a place that none of them really want to be. A fitting tribute to all of the men, and women, whose lives we changed or lost in this fight to make the world better.

Shelter can be viewed right now, in its entirety on Vimeo. For behind the scenes photos, and other information about the making of Shelter, visit its facebook page.

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