When the title page to a film looks like it belongs on the cover of an ‘80s horror paperback, you just know you’re in for a treat…Or are you?...
…Frank Sabatella’s The Shed, which just played at the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, has all the makings for a great horror flick. High school, bullies, girls, and a shed with something sinister inside.
Probably one of the best-known secrets of a horror movie is keeping its monster a secret until the very end of the film. Doing so allows us viewers to psyche ourselves out while studying the screen for a glimpse of what it looks like. At times this can be frustrating—just show us already! —but for the sake of keeping the tension on an otherwise loose plot, it’s imperative.
This is the first of two major sins The Shed commits. In the first five minutes we see it, the holy grail of the horror film, the monster: a vampire. A vampire that runs and hides from the sun in a—wait for it! —shed. Ah yes, the old vampire in a shed trope. It seems Bane (Frank Whaley, Pulp Fiction) is having an off day, being chased by something wearing a rather flashy cape in a forest. After a quick game of ring around the tree, Bane is bitten by his caped crusader and assumes the role of the now dead biter.
The second sin, its most damning, sees our protagonist kill a dog. Not directly, or even intentionally, mind you, but nonetheless, the dog’s death was completely avoidable had he not been a total asshat. This caused an immediate dislike of Stan, played by Jay Jay Warren, a nineteen-year-old playing a high schooler who looks like a nineteen-year-old playing a high schooler.
Stan, an orphan living with his grandfather after the death of his parents, is trapped in a vicious cycle of bullying, both at home and at school. Stan’s best friend, Dommer (Cody Kostro), doesn’t help matters much with his constant provoking of the school’s bullies, either. Together, Stan and Dommer’s friendship provides the glue to their sanity as they sit around, drinking beer, talking about their “shitty town” and how they hope to get away from it one day.
It was nice to see their friendship grow and begin to crumble as one might expect when dealing with teenage insecurity and dysfunctional families. As a person who was bullied growing up, this felt real and relatable. The idea of these two friends bonding over the bullying engaged me. I could see the cracks in their relationship, but something inside me willed them to keep it together.
The bullies, Marble (Chris Petrovski), Pitt (Francisco Burgos), and Ozzy (Uly Schlesinger) are your basic run of the mill, cussing, crude, driving like assholes, variety. Nothing about them is redeemable, which is good, because we already know what’s waiting for them in the shed.
The biggest source of contention between lead bully, Marble, and dog-killer Stan, is—of course—a girl. It seems Roxy, played by Sofia Happonen, has a slight romantic history with Stan, but a sexual one with Marble. The idea that Roxy and Marble have had sex doesn’t sit well with Stan (whom I’m guessing is still a virgin). Well, that and the fact that Roxy ditched him in favor of Marble a few years back when Marble got his hot, new car. Basic teenage stuff, but (sadly) relatable.
The tension builds between the warring crews, with the idea of the bitey thing in the shed not lurking too far from thought. You know they’ll all end up there at some point, but for a bit you wonder if they might not just kill each other in the school halls instead—that or learn some valuable lesson about the evils of bullying and all become best friends.
Sabatella spends a decent amount of time building these characters up in prep for what I believed was going to be a serious stand on anti-bullying. Instead, around the one-hour mark, we toss that out in favor of a new, cooler, idea.
If the first half of The Shed was about Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the latter half crosses into Fright Night territory, which, despite taking a complete detour from its initial seriousness, was rather fun. The gags were good, the blood was flowing, and Roxy turns into a total bad ass after getting stabbed in the shoulder during a rather comical and unexpected moment between Stan and Bane. As for whether said comical moment was intended, I can’t say, but I definitely got a kick out of it. Had the film stuck with this theme from the start, this would be a much different review.
But alas, The Shed is yet another movie that suffers from an identity crisis. What starts out as an interesting take on bullying and friendships, turns into a fun, albeit disconnected, creature feature. While this may have worked in Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn, it doesn’t work here. Either of Sabatella’s ideas would have been enjoyable as a whole film, he’s a capable writer and director (sans killing the dog), but this Frankenstein of a movie doesn’t quite come to life.
The Shed takes a bite out of VOD November 15th from RLJE films.
By Daniel Boucher