As someone who has had cats, squirrels, and even a groundhog trapped inside my family shed growing up, there’s a strange intimacy to that moment when you hear an inhuman sound bubble from what ought to be a closed and predictable space. It’s instantly terrifying, because there’s something scratching around that dark area, and your mind starts spinning horror images. There’s also a bond, though, a connection. Since this creature is inside your shed, you feel it belongs to you in a way. It’s yours to set free or attempt to tame.
In The Shed, however, our trapped creature isn’t just any garden variety critter. No, it’s a bloodthirsty vampire that’s ready to slash ribbons from your skin with its jagged claws and pierce a set of stalactite fangs into your warm, beating neck. For Stan this presents a predicament animal control can’t fix but for his best friend Dommer, a vampire is an opportunity to exact bloody vengeance. How exactly one weaponizes a vampire is hard to say, but where there’s a will there’s always a way.
Director: Frank Sabatella
Released: November 15, 2019
Stan (Jay Jay Warren) is a troubled teen on the cusp of turning 18. Both parents dead, he lives with his abusive grandfather in the ramshackle remains of his family home. He wears the same rags every day--though his hair remains well-coiffed--and lives as a high school outcast by crime of poverty. He and his best friend Dommer (Cody Kostro) skip class and hang out on a ratty couch in the wilderness and drink. They share a bond of loneliness, of abusive upbringings. Dommer is relentlessly bullied, and Stan acts as a sort of guardian. Of course, Stan can’t always be there for his friend, and systematic beatings and tauntings drag Dommer to his edge. So when Stan reveals the vicious, blood-crazed monster that’s landed in his shed after attempting to escape the rising sun, Dommer immediately wants to use it to kill his bullies.
To which I say hell fucking yeah!
The idea rings as very Dead Girl-esque: two best friends, one who’s troubled and handsome with his eyes on a pretty girl while the other’s more hardened and angered, looking for someone to get even with, something to hoist control over. In that respect, The Shed isn’t a bad companion piece. Where Dead Girl focuses more on the sex side of the septic mind of a teenage boy, The Shed aims itself toward violence while offering a better glimpse at an impoverished town.
In contrast to something like The Cleaning Lady and a host of other horror films that are demonstrably anti-poor with the well-off and suburban attacked by grungy outsiders, The Shed captures the perspective horrors of just being a poor kid in the world. Stan drags himself from a caustic home life to a caustic school life. He’s hounded by the sheriff and deputy. He’s isolated, unable to even call for help because the phone bill hasn’t been paid. The Shed seems to take place both now and in the 80’s without cell phones or computers due to the poverty of its central characters. Growing up in a desolate and depressed rural town, I experienced first-hand how towns like that become time-capsules simply because no one there can afford to live in the present. To be rich was to have a DVD player when I was a kid. To be rich in The Shed is to be able to call the police.
This isolation leaves Stan with few options when Dommer has a bully at gunpoint, ordering him toward the shed. There is a palpable hopelessness here when Stan’s caught between an irrevocably horrific act and the only person who’s stuck by his side. As much as I sympathize with that, I don’t feel like Dommer gets a fair shake here. Most his bullies’ assaults occur off-screen, so we’re given no chance to empathize with his anger and deterioration. Dommer turns straight-up evil as soon as he gets a bit of power, pushing the stereotype that the only difference between a bully and the bullied is who’s stronger. He even turns on Stan, and it just feels shitty and like it’s giving the wrong message.
Not that it matters much, since The Shed drops its friendship narrative and totally switches gears in the last act. As the vampire escapes, intent to return and morph Stan into one of its own, Stan teams with girlfriend Roxy (Sofia Happonen) to barricade the house and face off against the evil. It becomes a very haunted house sort of horror, more tongue-in-cheek in tone. It’s a gear shift like Behind the Mask that skews its original concept for a more traditional take. And boy does it become traditional.
The vampire finds a way inside, of course, just as a few expendable folks show up for slaughter. The group splits up (ugh), and Roxy seems to forget that she’s looking for a killer vampire as she sits down to look through some photos just long enough to be kidnapped--by a monster that was murdering people mercilessly and without warning up until this point. You can see where this is going, and though there’s a little variation to the individual beats, the showdown goes about as expected.
The vampires are more decayed Nosferatu than prim Dracula, and the gore that’s on display looks chunky and satisfying. What you see on the screen is fun enough, but none of it distracts from the fact that horror thrives on the unexpected while The Shed offers the very expected. This is a film that clearly knows horror but doesn’t know when to deviate, as it abandons its clever vampire-in-a-shed premise and paints by numbers up to its closing stinger and credits. It’s not bad and certainly doesn’t undo the first hour and change, but The Shed is a much better movie right up until the point that the monster is set loose.