If a pandemic is going to strand you somewhere The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel would seem to be the ideal location to be forced to shelter in place. The oldest continually operating hotel in Los Angeles, it’s been home to the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Errol Flynn, Prince, and Brad Pit. It’s also been seen in everything from I Love Lucy to The Fabulous Baker Boys and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Now it’s the setting of Shelter in Place, a lockdown filmed and set horror thriller by writer/directors Chris Beyrooty (Margaux) and Connor Martin.
Shelter in Place opens with a prologue involving a sleazy guest (Jey Reynolds) that continues into the titles. It put me in mind of Tobe Hooper’s version of The Toolbox Murders as well as the lesser-known Havenhurst. it gets the film off to a good start and had my curiosity aroused as to just what I saw and what was going on.
Newlyweds John (Brendan Hines, The Tick) and Sarah (Tatjana Marjanovic, Great White, Monsters of Man) were left stranded in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel when the airlines shut down. It’s certainly luxurious but it’s also a bit lonely as the only other people there are two staff members, Adela (Ola Kaminska, The Madness Within) and Ty (Kevin Daniels, Killing Hollywood: The Cotton Club Murder). As the days drag on though, Sarah begins to suspect that may not be the case and that something sinister is going on.
From there Beyrooty and Martin keep Shelter in Place’s plot running on two tracks. We know something very odd is going on in the hotel. We don’t know what, but we keep catching glimpses of things that obviously shouldn’t be happening. Parallel to this, we see John and Sarah as the isolation, along with her running out of her meds starts to take its toll on their relationship. She’s some kind of a social media influencer and still making money. He’s unemployed and willing to stay that way. He’s also a bit of an asshole and it’s starting to get on her nerves.
There’s enough going on here to keep things interesting, but at times Shelter in Place does feel a bit overly reliant on domestic drama. Thankfully The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel makes a great setting and between its opulent guest areas and creepy service corridors provides plenty of atmosphere and cinematographer Michael Dean Greenwood takes full advantage of it, both to maintain a sense of unease through these moments and to enhance others with some effective visuals.
Just like the prologue, the final act brought back memories of other films. Mentioning which would be a bit of a spoiler but I will say I think Beyrooty and Martin must have the same taste in Italian horror as I do. They don’t blatantly rip anything off, but the influence shows through enough to make me smile. It’s a satisfyingly fast-paced payoff the slower burn of Shelter in Place’s first hour.
Shelter in Place is a fine example of what we should have been getting for pandemic films instead of endless shot on Zoom talkfests or films patched together from footage shot by multiple people in multiple isolated locations. A small cast and an interesting script taking advantage of one interesting and empty location. In other words, what the best low-budget filmmakers have been doing all along. If fate really does hate us and we get a fourth wave hopefully this lesson won’t be lost on filmmakers.
Shelter in Place will be available on VOD and Digital on September 14th from 1091 Pictures. You can check their website for more information.