Director Nicholas Wagner’s Shelter for the Bloodstained Soul is a slightly bizarre and remarkably verbose horror that attempts to subvert the Judeo-Christian narrative of cult worship.
This particular cult has a quiet start, seemingly beginning when junkie and country singer Harvey meets the creepiest hitchhiker on earth, Addison Montclair. She inexplicably invites this stranger to stay with her, and after she hits it off with her crass mechanic Tex, gets comfortable enough to whip out his magic pipe.
I say magic because it’s never truly explained what’s inside the pipe; whatever it is, causes the smoker to hallucinate a beautiful woman in red, and it’s like catnip for a strung-out Harvey. Addison spins some pretty standard cult spiel, but Harvey doesn’t seem super sold until she realises that whatever it was she smoked has made her immune to the effects of her favourite drugs.
Tex soon follows her lead, and before long Addison is putting a knife in Tex’s hand and ordering him to kill a stranger. When questioned why, Addison reveals that the mystery woman is an angel who lives in the spaces where flesh touches flesh and that she feeds on people who indulge in lust without love. She wants to be born into flesh, so they need to find a particular kind of woman: one who walks in the moonlight (it’s a sex worker. They mean a sex worker).
Aaaaand here’s Cammy! A beautiful young sex worker who happens to look exactly like their collective imaginings of the goddess, and will apparently do anything for a salt and vinegar crisp.
After being sexually assaulted on the beach, the cult ostensibly comes to Cammy’s rescue – bagging another sacrifice in the process. Once she’s on board, after extracting a promise of protection from would-be attackers and her possessive older brother, they continue with their murder spree. At this point, they seem to have dropped the lustful stipulation and are just attacking anyone they come across at night.
Most of the film seems to be built on rambling monologues that veer from Biblical to Shakespearean to downright nonsense, with anachronistic, flowery phrases orated in heavy Southern accents – it was almost Brechtian in the way it jarringly pulled you out of the scene – at one point, Addison describes the drug they’re taking as “like if pussy was on fire.”
Addison is slimy and repulsive; he is mostly seen inappropriately touching women, throwing hissy fits, or pouting like a baby girl to get out of trouble; out of the cult crew, only Harvey seems to have depth, although she mostly plays a supporting role. Every time the pipe comes out it’s joined by 80s porn-style music, adding an uncomfortable sexual edge to everything without ever actually showing any sex or nudity.
While containing a lot of violent murder, Shelter for the Bloodstained Soul has barely any gore, just some blood. The most shocking part of it was that a film in 2017 had someone smoking in nearly every scene – the entire cast must have been chain smokers.
A bit of a thinker but pretty easily accessible to those who don’t like gore, Shelter for the Bloodstained Soul isn’t quite what it’s sold as; more of a loquacious meditation on cult worship and the nature of existence, but interesting for it.
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