When we think of vampires in 2019, we’re more likely to think of the sexier take on these classic horror movie monsters featured in “Twilight” and “True Blood,” or maybe their comedic treatment in “What We Do in the Shadows,” rather than the bloodsucking fiends popularized by Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.”
This isn’t to say that 21st century filmmakers haven’t tried to return to the roots of vampire lore in more horror-centric films like “30 Days of Night” and “Let the Right One In.” However, these efforts are few and far between, and the modern archetypical vampire continues to look more like Edward Cullen than the monsters of European myth.
In “The Shed,” director-screenwriter Frank Sabatella (“Blood Night: The Legend of Mary Hatchet”) makes a compelling argument for revisiting these fanged horror movie monsters.
Sabatella plays with teen movie tropes, combining them with elements of horror to create a dark twist on a familiar storyline. While this indie film has just enough substance to appeal to horror fans seeking fresh blood, “The Shed” ultimately fails to live up to its intriguing premise.
Stan (Jay Jay Warren) is your typical teen movie outcast. He gets bullied by the cool kids, pines after the popular girl and has no one to turn to but his equally uncool best friend, Dommer (Cody Kostro).
In a dark twist on this classic teen trope, we find out that he’s an orphan raised by his abusive grandfather. Also, it turns out that Dommer is kind of a creep — while Stan wants nothing more than to keep his head down until he graduates, Dommer is looking for revenge.
Cue the discovery of a bloodthirsty creature of the night in Stan’s shed. While Stan looks for ways to fight the vampire alone, Dommer sees the monster as a grisly solution to their problems.
The film promises to deliver drama, scares and a few dark twists. Unfortunately, most of what Sabatella offers up is good-old-fashioned teenage angst. I appreciate Sabatella’s willingness to delve into the psychological impact of poverty, abuse and bullying — exploring how far people will go when they are pushed to their limits. However, he doesn’t handle these darker themes with subtlety, veering into melodrama and relying on cliches. A promising beginning devolves into a tiresome teen drama punctuated with mostly unconvincing scares.
Stan and Dommer’s friendship should be the emotional core of the movie. Rather than deconstructing a close friendship over the course of the film, Sabatella presents a compelling dysfunctional dynamic, with Dommer as a manipulative figure. If Sabatella had taken the time to explore the complexities of this relationship, it might have made for a more interesting film with a more satisfying emotional payoff. Instead, he wastes our time with a romantic subplot between Stan and cool girl Roxy (Sofia Happonen). As is typical of on-screen teen romances, everything develops too quickly to be believable, and it ultimately proves to be the less interesting of the two core relationships in the film.
Meanwhile, Sabatella builds up tension around the titular shed. We don’t get much more than a glimpse or two of the vampire until the final act, but it’s clear that this creature has more in common with Nosferatu than Lestat de Lioncourt. Beyond a few gory encounters with the monster, most of the scares come in the form of scenes that turn out to be dream sequences.
The climax of the film is rushed, and the final act deteriorates into a relatively uninteresting 20 minutes of vampire bashing. While the vampire itself is convincingly monstrous, and the special effects are charmingly lo-fi, there’s an inexplicable tonal shift towards the end of the movie. In between one-liners and splatters of fake blood, I found myself wondering what had happened to film I was promised.
All things considered, there is something to be said for a horror film that isn’t afraid to make vampires scary again. “The Shed” brings a lot of the table — a darker take on cliches we know and love, a dose of social commentary and a brilliantly original concept. Unfortunately, it seems like Sabatella was caught between writing a pitch-dark psychological thriller and a campy, cliche-subverting romp. Either version would have made a good movie, but we ended up with an unsatisfying film that doesn’t quite succeed at being either.