If there is a debate that will rage on in every medium, for all time, it will be “How much of an effect does a bad ending have on a project as a whole?” How bad does the ending have to be before it undoes all of the good the film has set up and are there varying levels of bad? Shelter in Place has so much going for it with its timely pandemic isolation, to its location that slowly and steadily reveals something horrifying lurking below the exterior that it just feels horribly cheapened by a terrible payoff.
The honeymoon is a celebration of the future, the very start of a beautiful life between two people, that was before the pandemic. Now Sarah (Tatjana Marjanovic) and John (Brendan Hines) find themselves cooped up in a Los Angeles hotel trying to make the best of it. Sarah influences on social media while John tries to keep himself busy, but that only lasts so many days. Before too long they start to need breaks from each other if they are going to survive this isolation. It is on one of these wanders around the hotel that Sarah starts to make some unsettling revelations.
The couple is currently isolated in a hotel at the very beginning of the coronavirus pandemic when everything in California was shut down and only essential workers were allowed to be out and about. The setup of Shelter in Place is simple and genius, playing into the all too familiar lockdown we all experience while adding the fact that they are on their honeymoon, making them strangers in an unknown place. This tied with the very subtle horror and the ever-expanding mystery of what is truly going on behind the scenes of the hotel makes for an experience that feels almost like a modern telling of The Shining.
Everything is going in the movie’s favor, my attention has been grabbed, we’re heading into the final stretch and it all comes apart. I’ve always stood by that a bad introduction can alienate people from your film, possibly turning them away before it even begins and a bad ending will sour the entire experience as a whole, but is that fair? If you have an enchanting night out and you get stuck in traffic, does that ruin the night? In the case of Shelter in Place, the problem with the bad ending is it makes you question all of the subtle horrors that came before it and wonder what was their purpose? Were all of the terrifying visuals and clues leading to this being the conclusion? It instead feels like a script that was bought without a proper ending and this is what was thought of on the spot.
It is hard to recommend a movie that falls short at the beginning or the end, much in the same way no one wants to be recommended a television series that gets good three seasons in or has a lackluster final season. For all its faults Shelter in Place shows competence and restraint that is still very rare in this industry but its ending is far more disappointing than it would have been if it was mediocre to start.
6 out of 10