Contrary to popular belief, horror films tackling social issues is nothing new. George Romero was unabashedly open about the social commentary of his films, and John Carpenter did little to veil his criticism of Reagan-era politics during the ‘80s. Recently, filmmakers such as Jordan Peele have taken the reins of such a movement, but not all the movies serving as allegory for a deeper message are such mainstream hits as Get Out. Frank Sabatella’s The Shed is one such entry in the long, storied history of horror being used as a vehicle for social criticism.
The Shed is, at its heart, the story of three lifelong friends who are all outcasts in one way or another: Stan (Jay Jay Warren), the protagonist, lives with his abusive grandfather after the death of his parents and despises the town he lives in. His best friend Dominic (Cody Kostro), or Dommer as he’s affectionately known, is the victim of constant bullying at the hands of a group of local wannabe toughs that he constantly fantasizes about exacting some kind of revenge against. Roxy (Sofia Happonen) is the third leg of this tripod, a popular girl at their high school whom Stan harbors a seemingly unrequited crush on, and who Dommer resents for growing “too cool” for their friendship. In the midst of this simmering triangle is the shed in Stan’s backyard, which in the beginning of the film becomes the home of some insidious inhuman monster. Stan quickly learns the hard way that this is a mounting problem that must be dealt with, but Dommer sees this as an opportunity to rid himself of the bullies who have made his life a living hell, and therein lays the real conflict of the film.
There is indeed a truly great story at the heart of The Shed, and the dynamic between Stan and Dommer is wonderfully reminiscent of such classic vampire films as The Lost Boys and Fright Night. The problem is that it feels as if the story is focused on the wrong person. Stan is a classic heroic protagonist, but in the story he has very little going on aside from being the one whose property the shed happens to be on. The entire film feels as if it could truly be great if Dommer was the character that the story rested on and revolved around, and indeed it is a choice he makes that sets the events of the last act of the film in motion, but at that point it feels almost too late in the movie to really see him as anything but the dopey angry friend. The tragedy is that Cody Kostro, the actor portraying Dommer, is woefully underused in this movie. He brings a real sadness and anger to the character that stands in stark contrast to the murky motivations of Stan, the character who is supposed to be shouldering the weight of the story. Jay Jay Warren is fine as Stan, but it feels as if there’s not much going on aside from him hating his grandfather and wishing he could date Roxy, and while his struggle to convince his best friend that they just can’t kill the bullies who are making his life hell is somewhat sympathetic, Dommer’s rage and anger and absolute conviction that it’s completely fine to murder the people who have wronged him make him a far more fascinating character. Unfortunately, he is treated as little more than something to motivate the main character to make a choice that will propel the story to its conclusion.
The Shed is a fine film in theory, in that it seeks to draw attention to a problem plaguing the American school system. Unfortunately, in practice it stumbles quite a bit. The lesson it intends to teach is certainly a noble one, and Sabatella should rightfully be given credit for attempting to tell such a tale. Bullying is a very real problem, and its effects can be permanent and cruel. But the tragedy that lies at the heart of the film involving bullying is seemingly ignored in favor for some of the more straight up horror elements of the story. Instead of taking the time to really let the concept of how the characters got to where they breathe and grow, we’re rushed through all of that to get to the inevitable showdown at the end. Despite this, in the end it still succeeds as a decent tribute to the films it emulates and is certainly worth watching.