Review by Sean Boelman
Shelter in Solitude is the second feature written by actress-turned-filmmaker Siobhan Fallon Hogan, after 2021’s indie thriller Rushed. While it definitely borrows a lot of tropes from other, more successful films, Shelter in Solitude works best as an acting showcase for its writer/star, allowing her to turn in career-best work.
The movie follows a washed up country singer who takes the only job she can find — as a prison guard — where she forms an unlikely connection with a death row prisoner set to be executed in mere days. Like Rushed, Hogan’s sophomore effort as a screenwriter is a relatively simple film in terms of storytelling, but layers of emotional nuance are added by the cast.
What holds Shelter in Solitude back from ever reaching the greatness it shows the potential for is that it is never able to settle on a tone. At times, it feels like it’s trying to be something serious and poignant like The Green Mile, but other times, it seems content with being a fish-out-of-water comedy. Although the movie is always sincere, it’s hard to take it entirely seriously when the comedic relief is a bit too much with its humor.
There is also the fact that the film is a bit too sentimental and preachy with its themes. As is the case with many movies about the criminal justice system, Shelter in Solitude is all about second chances and forgiveness, but this film stands out for an oddly optimistic outlook despite the events that proceed.
Admittedly, some of the character work here is a bit threadbare, but Hogan accomplishes her emotional goals regardless. While the protagonist does have an arc, the growth she experiences in the last two-thirds of the movie doesn’t exactly match how you’d expect her to grow from her introduction in the first act. Additionally, one could almost fault the film for falling back on the “Magical Negro” trope, if that character’s arc weren’t arguably more interesting than the protagonist’s.
The technical aspects are very vanilla, and the fact that the movie is set (and was presumably shot) during the COVID-19 pandemic gives it a feeling of smallness. Unfortunately, despite what the title may imply, Shelter in Solitude doesn’t do anything with this isolationism, and often feels a tad disconnected as a result.
Nonetheless, the acting is surprisingly top-notch across the board, elevating the film beyond its uneven script and limited scale of production. Hogan, who made a name for herself as a character actress, is finally getting her chance as a leading lady, and she’s excellent, with effortless comedic timing, but also a subtly crushing humanity. Robert Patrick and Peter Macon are also great in their roles, serving as wonderful foils to Hogan, but also giving strong turns in their own right. Macon, in particular, impresses considering his role often calls for him to be soft-spoken, if not entirely wordless.
Shelter in Solitude features a tremendous performance by Siobhan Fallon Hogan, but Hogan doesn’t have a strong enough grasp of the tone in writing the script for it to be fully effective. Still, Hogan clearly wrote this with herself in mind for the role, and the result is a film that feels impassioned — even in its unevenness.
Shelter in Solitude hits theaters on October 6.