By JAMES TUCKER
Starring: Jay Jay Warren, Cody Kostro, Sofia Happonen
Directed by Frank Sabatella
Written by Frank Sabatella, Jason Rice
Produced by Sideshow Pictures, A Bigger Boat
The Halloween season has officially begun, and with it comes a brand-new set of releases from Shudder to kick things off. Strangely, most of them seem to be vampire flicks this time around (though I’m not complaining), with titles like Countess Dracula and The Vampire Lovers making their debut on the platform alongside the new Shudder Original THE SHED. I’m sure I’ll visit one of the other films at some point, but I decided to kick the season off with THE SHED, a film that looked like the coming of the next Van Helsing. It mostly delivers on that promise, albeit hitting a couple of snags along the way.
THE SHED is, at it’s heart, a coming of age story about three high schoolers on the fringe of society trying to navigate a cruel, strange world where everything and everyone seems to be against them. The vampire taking refuge in Stan’s shed is the least of his worries: suffering from the trauma of his parents’ early passing, Stan has to put up with his abusive grandpa/guardian kicking the shit out of him every day, getting bullied at school by Marble and the other “popular” kids, and the cops actively waiting for him to mess up so they can put him back in juvie. And he isn’t the only one having a tough time: his close friends Roxy and Dommer are also struggling in their own ways with fitting in, Roxy doing her best to blend in at her own expense and Dommer being the only person Marble likes kicking the shit out of more than Stan. When the vampire shows up, its presence offers our main characters a choice: what does someone who feels powerless do when something so powerful shows up on their doorstep? When characters discover that monsters are real and look to prey on the unsuspecting, will they try and protect those around them? Or become monsters themselves?
“In THE SHED, Monsters are everywhere, and growing up means learning how to survive them without becoming like them.”
Stan’s choice says quite a bit about what this film thinks coming of age is supposed to look like. His attempts to protect everyone around him, first by chaining the monster up and then by hunting it in the surprisingly tense and well-executed climax, despite the fact that literally nobody sees any value in him (and most are actively abusive towards him) reflect a rebellion against the cycle of trauma he’s been in his whole life. Stan does not always succeed, but he always tries to save even those who have been irredeemably terrible to him; he constantly exemplifies the ideal of someone trying to be better, someone who tries to rise above his circumstances and do the right thing despite literally nobody being deserving his help. I will say that this film can be a bit heavy handed, an exaggerated manifestation of the teen mindset of “the world is against me;” literally every adult in the film doesn’t listen to him when he tries to warn them about the vampire and is aggressively abusive to him seconds before they get devoured one by one. But the dynamic between Stan and Dommer, a person who DOES NOT feel inclined to make the right decision, was compelling enough to forgive it, and all of the high school drama in the background caused the kind of believable conflict that mostly offsets anything that felt too extreme on the adults’ part.
Dommer’s character arc was actually the one real complaint I have with this film. I think they drop it too soon. Dommer is a bona-fide wannabe school shooter, and his arc could have easily been the most horrifying thing in the film; it felt very contemporary, given America’s gun violence epidemic, and I wish it had been given time to develop further with Dommer as the ultimate antagonist of the film. As things stand the film chooses to refocus on Stan and his fight to survive against the ultimately less interesting antagonist of the film, wrapping up Dommer’s arc quickly and then shoving him aside. I say less interesting because while the film is full of tense moments where this trapped vampire is looking to escape and Stan is doing everything he can to keep him locked away, the vampire never really has or develops a character of his own; he’s just a predator, an outside force looking to wreak havoc on everything around him. And look, the climax of the film was still way better than I was expecting; it was extremely tense, and the final battle between our main characters and the antagonist had one jaw dropping moment in particular that I PROMISE you won’t see coming. I just think that this film could have gone so much darker, and I think it would have been stronger for it.
That being said, THE SHED is solidly entertaining. Though everyone is cartoonishly awful other than the three core characters, the bond between those characters and the way they interact with one another lends the film a lot of its heart and its stakes (see what I did there? I’m sorry.). The conflict between Stan and the creature in the shed is often nail-bitingly tense as Stan tries to figure out how to keep the creature contained with… mixed results, and the climax of the film is way more exciting than it had any right to be. Though the film has its flaws, it’s definitely worth a watch. I’m giving this one a 7.
Stay tuned. This is going to be a great season, I can tell.