Directed by Frank Sabatella
Written by Frank Sabatella & Jason Rice
When a vampire hides out in the shed, your premise teeters on the brink of ludicrous rather than serious. Frank Sabatella’s The Shed (2019) though has serious chomps to take out of the social paradigm of bullying, abuse, and snap judgements, it’s just a shame this all gets wrapped up in the wrong delivery. Stan is a young man (though seven years too old for a high-schooler) who grows up under the vigilant ‘boomer’ antics of his Grandfather, a crotchety, one-note character who seems determined to berate Stan despite the traumatic deaths of his parents.
Life isn’t any easier at school, as Stan and best friend Dommer are the outcasts, the weirdos, and traditionally far too square-jawed and attractive to convey this. They suffer from the norms of high school, love lost, bullies and a suspiciously missing faculty, the pair come to realise that a vampire has taken up residence in Stan’s shed. An apparition of unmitigated power, particularly of violent masculinity, this beast tempts Dommer into aiding him to unleash his bloodlust onto the bullies who have driven Dommer to the point of derangement. All the while, Stan figures out how to keep the town safe, remove the threat and of course, secure the attention of love interest Roxy.
When your film dedicates itself to a body count, the inclusion of unpleasant characters come par of the course. Where The Shed drops the ball is in creating such one-dimensional supporting characters, that even forced empathy cannot rally the audience to support the slaughter of bullies or mourn the loss of the only decent humans. After twenty minutes of watching, the only character worth concern is the pet dog. Cody Kostro’s Dommer starts thoroughly unlikable and attempts to forge a connection with the audience fail. Entirely down to the writing, Kostro turns in a harrowingly visceral performance once the taunts and assaults get too much for him, he snaps, and what follows is a performance deserving of a better film.
Equally, the chemistry between Stan (Jay Jay Warren) and Roxy (Sofia Happonen) develops well, at first seeming bland and an obligatory male gaze, Happonen turns in a fleshed-out performance, or at least as far as she is able, given the scenario. There’s a running problem where much of the setup is hashed to begin and develops over time, but not in the correct manner, while the payoff of characterisation emerges, it comes from nothing, especially from bully Marble, played by Chris Petrovski, who is fundamentally flat until the stand-off he has with Kostro in the film’s most potent moment. The characterisation and direction haven’t led to this naturally, instead, the writing conducts a reversal and the actors happen to turn in a deeper performance.
Here The Shed demonstrates its most substantial issue. Often in cinema, a solid start is the norm, and a weak ending follows. Sabatella’s writing subverts this, and the film’s setup is ineffective, but the thought process behind the latter half is frustratingly powerful. That of a ‘monster’ in the shed, a being amalgamed from uncontrollable rage which calls to the downtrodden, the abused and hurt. This symbolic nature of unleashing said monstrosity to punish, at the cost of our decency is fully stripped by the feeble setup and inability to connect. Such a powerful metaphor for those of us who dreamt of a power to defeat bullies, only to recognise our shift into the monster, squandered.
Disregarding the semantical nature, this tension fuels the ending, and there’s a sobering moment before the climax where the assaulter and his victims have a final confrontation. Dommer carrying a firearm, the victim turned assailant now devoid of empathy or reason, as the music cuts the emotions heighten, and the acting is nothing of what it once was. If anything, this brutally frank scene on the warping of a victims mindset is made for a far superior film which didn’t need the supernatural aspect.
But, at its core, The Shed is a horror film, and as such the supernatural aspect is integral. It’s a shame that despite the cleverness in the lore, particularly the toying with lighting, isn’t capitalised on correctly. The vampire is revealed excessively early, blowing any payoff later into the film. Even after revealing the look of the being, which has adequate make-up, the film continuously shows the creature, gradually stripping any tangible fear the audience may have. Traditionally, vampires are ‘the other’, the foreigner, the unknown monster. The unfamiliar element here is potentially masculine aggression, but Sabatella isn’t tying this into the vampire lore, this could have been any movie monstrosity.
Neither ridiculous nor gory, The Shed seems unsure of which avenue to remain in. It certainly contains the levity, satire and jokes to call itself an attempted comedy, but the teenage angst and more serious notes towards bullying suggest an attempt at a severe notion beneath the traditional horror angle. Sabatella is conflicted, wanting to cover too many bases, and unfortunately ends up creating murky waters in what was tremendous potential. There are certainly fangs, but they don’t draw much blood.
Review originally published for In Their Own League: https://intheirownleague.com/2020/05/11/review-the-shed/