While listlessly browsing movie options on my sickbed, this plot caught my eye: a group of neighbors, in a house surrounded by murderous creatures, become the prey of a serial killer hidden among them. As supplies dwindle and paranoia grows, who will survive when the world has shifted?
Sure, why not? Let’s watch Shifted (2023). It’s only 89 minutes. Skipping end credits, we can be out in 85 minutes. That still leaves plenty of daylight left to roast Disney.
Shifted is a Screambox Original. It is directed by Adrian Konstant and stars Michael Wurtz, Derek Lackenbauer, and Victoria Dunsmore. How can it not be good?
No reason exists to be precious about spoilers. The movie starts with a man, who looks like Elya Baskin, being belittled by a shrew of a wife. Meanwhile, an Al Roker-looking television guy warns viewers about a plague of “infected” people. He tells everyone they should stay indoors, especially spouses who hate each other. This goes so well that Ersatz Elya breaks a plate over his wife’s head and stuffs the remaining half down her throat. I guess that makes him the movie’s bad guy.
Time passes. It is now winter and Ersatz Elya is part of a group holed up in a house. If I had to guess, someone associated with the production owned the house, as Shifted’s budget appears to be in the neighborhood of $5,000. The cast probably got paid in canned vegetables.
The group is made up of three women and three men. Initially, there is one more guy, but he decides to leave. Flashbacks reveal there was also another guy, and then another woman joins the group later, but only after another guy joins them first. I hope you got all that because that is the kind of movie we are dealing with. Someone had a house, a camera, $5,000, some canned vegetables, some actors willing to work for canned vegetables, and went from there.
Only six minutes into the movie, the F word is already uttered six times. This is a warning flag. It takes a special level of talent to employ copious amounts of the F word. Otherwise, the F word is an edge-lord crutch used to try to create a desperate mood.
Guess which category Shifted falls under…
Glimpses of the infected are also shown. They are not clearly focused upon. Near as one can tell, they are three people who bought shirts and slacks at JC Penny, ripped them up, and winded Saran wrap around their heads.
The people holed up in the house have a routine they follow to survive. For example, someone has to go get snow every day for fresh water. Another person has to dump the waste bucket. A third person daily counts how many cans of vegetables they have left. All of this is presided over by a grump of a man who looks a little bit like R.G. Armstrong.
Characters are painted in broad strokes, and token conflict is injected for drama. Some want to leave. Others want to stay. Everyone laments lost loved ones. Two women catfight because one had an affair with the other’s husband. One person says potato. The other says pah-tah-toh. They walk around looking very serious and pensive. Somewhere, there must be a graph that displays how when a movie’s budget goes down, everyone’s gravitas goes up to compensate.
Every now and again, the movie cuts away to a guy who looks like Captain Lou Albino wandering around. He found a way to survive among the infected by being very still and calm. It is eventually revealed that the infected are blind and use sonar because someone involved with the production watched A Quiet Place. Said someone also watched Dawn of the Dead, This is the End, The Thing, Bird Box, and 28 Weeks Later. Maybe it is the same someone who owned the house…
What is interesting about Captain Lou Albino’s character is that even though he has been wandering around in the apocalypse for months, he is still about 100 pounds overweight. I don’t know how the movie snagged him. Obviously, he is above the canned-vegetable paygrade.
A girl who looks like Aubrey Plaza is the final piece of the puzzle. After she joins the group, the promised plot kicks into gear. Ersatz Elya kills people. Captain Lou Albino plays Hercule Poirot. It is revealed that the infected have big spiders living inside of them. It is hinted that the big spiders may have come from the local food-processing plant. Most everyone dies. The end.
Due to the riveting synopsis above, it is hard to believe Shifted comes up short. Yet, some snark should be held in abeyance. The movie deserves a degree of credit. Let’s break down the pros and cons.
Admittedly, the plot is too busy. Trying to combine a siege movie, a serial-killer movie, a zombie movie, and a mystery movie in an 89-minute package is overly optimistic. Yet, it’s a damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t situation. The world doesn’t need another low-budget, zombie-siege movie. No meat exists on that bone. The creators of Shifted seemed to realize this and tried to bring more to the table. Their reach simply exceeds their grasp.
Shifted does an adequate job building the situation. Watching Captain Lou Albino wander around creates intrigue. The viewer wants to know his story. The infected are handled in a decent manner. A degree of mystery exists about them. Showing the survivors’ routine is also an interesting avenue to explore. How many zombie-siege movies acknowledge people need a toilet?
Mostly, the movie is let down in the writing department. The dialogue is weak, which lets the performers off the hook to a certain extent because they are simply following the script.
For example, a character has a line about how one of the infected “looked like his fifth-grade teacher” and has to be shaken up about it. What is an actor working for canned vegetables supposed to do with that line? What are they supposed to draw on? How many people carry great emotional attachment to their fifth-grade teacher? How about the infected looked like their brother or the girl they took to prom? Stuff like that makes more sense.
The direction doesn’t help the cast either. The camera is generally static. It holds on actors while they try to emote iffy dialogue, which exposes all of the seams in their talent.
In addition, Shifted doesn’t maximize its runtime. Characters spin wheels rather than move in proper directions. A serial killer manipulating women into killing another person because he convinces them that person was the killer is a sterling idea. The problem is, it happens because it’s time for the movie to thin out the characters. It is not earned. For as much as Shifted has going on, it needs another 30 minutes of runtime to flesh everything out.
Captain Lou Albino as Hercule Poirot is fun in theory, but his sleuthing basically boils down to asking, “Do you have a knife?” repeatedly. This kind of monotony is death in a 90-minute movie. Likewise, the tone of the movie is one-note. A total lack of levity makes Shifted tiring to watch. It doesn’t need quipping, but every character is a walking advertisement for Prozac.
Visually, each scene seems like the scene that came before it, as well. That’s too bad because some moments exist that could carry weight. A flashback where a woman runs from the infected with her parents is one such scene. The parents can’t keep up, so they tell her they love her, to keep running, and not look back while they get dragged down behind her. Another interesting moment happens at the end of the film when Captain Lou Albino and Ersatz Elya can do nothing but stand quietly and look at each other while infected lumber around them. This could have been played up for a good degree of suspense, but Shifted doesn’t capitalize.
These are the kind of things that happen when you aren’t dealing with A- or B-level filmmaking. A-level filmmaking can at least put a sparkle on a turd. B-level filmmaking can at least be trashy fun. But C-level filmmaking? It’s usually a frustrating world of decent ideas hampered by poor execution.
On the plus side, at least Shifted isn’t D-level filmmaking, which stands for “Disney”-level filmmaking. Shifted is superior to their stuff because it isn’t dismantling classic films and using their bones to build a Frankenstein creation of agenda. Shifted might be a shaky structure, but at least it isn’t built on a burial ground of beloved cultural icons. Let’s go out on hysterical Craig T. Nelson…
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