Just because something is cheap doesn’t mean it has to be overly simple.
As such, I have to give credit where credit is due: Columbia writer and director David Axe goes for it with his latest blood-soaked cinematic effort, S H E D, taking what some might initially assume is a standard low-budget splatter flick set-up and giving it an intriguing spin. Axe tries his hand at a bit of myth-based storytelling and world-building, albeit accompanied by the requisite sex, gore, bare breasts and various other exploitative touches that have become the calling card of films in which he is involved.
Axe previously wrote the script for The Theta Girl, the 2017 exploitation romp that was directed by Chris Bickel and won plaudits within the indie and horror movie communities. Axe and Bickel later parted ways as filmmakers, and in 2018 Axe wrote and directed Azrael, a sequel to The Theta Girl. While it didn’t light up the indie circuit in the same way as its predecessor, Azrael did further Axe’s style as a filmmaker.
Now comes S H E D, an effort that was made for $25,000 in fall 2018 in Columbia and Eastover. That miniscule price tag has a sort of dual effect: There end up being moments of low-rent kitsch that are informed by such a non-existent budget, balanced against instances of showy filmmaking that leave you wondering how Axe pulled it off. (There’s a small scene early in the film in which a character pulls up to a party in her car. The camera pushes in toward the car, into the passenger side window, passes through the cab, then pulls out of the driver’s side window and holds tight on the actress as she exits the vehicle. A slick little trick, and one you might miss unless you’re watching closely.)
S H E D focuses chiefly on a group of friends who are gathered at a secluded countryside home for a Halloween party, one where older, white-bearded attendee Mike (Mike Amason, who offers one of the strongest performances in the film) is regaling partygoers with a story he often repeats. Specifically, he tells the tale of a “humanoid parasite” that has spent hundreds of years living amongst the general populace. The parasite in Mike’s tale kills people and inhabits their skin, assuming their life until taking another victim. As those gathered at the Halloween bash soon learn, Mike’s story is more real than they could possibly imagine.
I won’t go much further into plot details, as there are some surprises to be had. Just know that, while the carnage you’re likely expecting is on full display, this isn’t simply a blood-and-guts pic. Axe’s script suggests a lengthy backstory for some of the film’s central characters, with the sort of tantalizing dialogue that offers just enough of a glimpse at the unseen big picture that it leaves you intrigued about what came before the events of S H E D, and curious about what could unfold later.
To be certain, S H E D has some issues. Sound quality on the film is dicey in patches, sometimes frustratingly so. And some of the gore and “skin shedding” effects walk a tightrope between nauseatingly grisly and completely ridiculous. This is also the kind of movie where you can see, at times, characters who are supposed to be dead clearly breathing. But, at a brisk 82 minutes, the camera doesn’t linger on that kind of thing long before we’re off to the next bit of schlocky business.
Music on the film is credited to Matt Akers, Gauge Santiago, Mario McLean and Don Crescendo, and their efforts are one of the key highlights of the film. There’s some of that John Carpenter-esque synth sound going on in spots here, and I’m a sucker for that kind of thing. But for good reason: It gives the film a dark, moody feel, and suggests something ominous is coming our way.
As it is, S H E D fits the burgeoning David Axe oeuvre rather nicely. Buckets of blood, some naked bodies, a real grindhouse feel. But there’s also enough style here to suggest a potential progression. It would be interesting to see what he could come with if he had a few more dollars to play with.
S H E D has been submitted for consideration for numerous film festivals. Keep an eye on facebook.com/shedthemovie for future screenings.