The Shed. 2019. Directed & Written by Frank Sabatella.
Starring Jay Jay Warren, Cody Kostro, Sofia Happonen, Frank Whaley, Timothy Bottoms, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Chris Petrovski, Francisco Burgos, & Uly Schlesinger.
A Bigger Boat / Sideshow Pictures
98 minutes / Not Rated
DISCLAIMER: The following article contains significant spoilers
We’ve seen many stories about vampires, and we’ve also seen plenty of different iterations of bullying on-screen. The Shed manages to combine both these elements into an interesting morality tale about the nature of power between the bullies and the bullied— exploring what happens when that power’s subverted, what affect it has on the bullied when they’re suddenly capable of being bullies in their own right.
Frank Sabatella’s screenplay centres on Stan (Jay Jay Warren) and his friend Dommer (Cody Kostro), who live in a small rural town where they face the ridicule and violence of the popular kids in high school. Stan lives with his abusive grandfather, juggling a shattered home life and the responsibility he feels trying to protect Dommer.
But everything changes when Stan discovers someone’s wandered into the shed out behind his grandfather’s place, and they’re hiding a terrifying secret.
Sabatella does a good enough job with his themes to keep the action compelling. The acting isn’t always a thing to behold, though Warren carries the weight of the plot pretty well. The premise itself is interesting. It’s fun the way we’re setup to watch what happens when power threatens the stable relationship between Stan and Dommer, once the balance between the bullied and their bullies is shifted in their favour. Then the film asks moral questions of us. For all its faults, The Shed makes us think about the role of trauma in bullying and how it can ultimately turn some people into monsters, perpetuating the cycle, but that there are those who refuse to be made into monsters, too.
For anybody who sits outside the usual heteronormative lifestyles of people in rural towns, the small, insular environment of a place like that can force them into survival mode, like Stan, Dommer, and their childhood friend Roxy (Sofia Happonen), each battling to last another day in their respective ways. Roxy pretends to be somebody she’s not, clinging to a popular clique in school. The bullies use machismo as a way to keep them from being eaten alive like they do to other students. Then there’s Dommer and Stan using alcohol to drown away the boredom and the sorrow of their bullied lives.
Worse than what small towns force people to do so they can survive are the many infections that come along with little, socially isolated places. Sexism and issues of masculinity are the big ones in this film. We see Marble (Chris Petrovski), the main antagonist and lead bully, display those typically male chauvinist qualities of sexism and misogyny in the way he treats Roxy at various points. He, and other men like Dommer and Stan, are infected by damaging rural masculinities, which in turn hurts women, too.
In an obvious yet perfect metaphor, The Shed uses a vampire to stand in as a figurative embodiment of this insular little town’s true nature: feeding off the life of its residents. All those infectious, toxic attitudes about gender, race, sexuality, class (etc) that exist in smaller isolated towns find themselves represented in the angry, hungry vampire, whose only thought is of destruction.
Apart from the symbolic role of the vampire here, there are some other great moments involving vampirism. First, we notice that the 1943 horror film The Return of the Vampire is playing at Stan’s place in the background. This brings a kind of old school Gothic vibe to a postmodern tale of the blood-sucking undead. The classic vision of a romanticised vampire character, such as Dracula, all but literally bursts into The Shed. Stan has an erotic dream that suddenly becomes violent once he’s attacked by a vampire, the girl he was dreaming about having sex with, and this image likewise ties into the male-specific issues re: anger and violence that take up much of the story.
Men are the only ones who end up infected by vampirism throughout the film, making the plot a particularly potent examination of male aggression and the male desire for revenge. Specifically, men are all drawn to the shed in some way, pointing out the numerous ways toxic ideas of masculinity can propel men in dangerous directions. For instance, the bully’s wounded pride from his fight with Stan at school leads him to the shed. The grandfather’s toxic attitude about manliness takes him into the shed, too. Finally it’s Dommer’s misguided anger which leads him into the shed and puts everyone in danger later. All of them fail to heed the warnings of Stan, whose character’s marked by a refusal to give into the vampire’s powers, symbolically standing in for the infectious toxicity of that small town. Masculine rage becomes the “pet monster” he wants to keep at bay, whereas Dommer feels entirely different.
The full effects of bullying and its flawed idea of masculinity as equating to physical strength is on display by the end, when Dommer becomes infected. He’s already infected before that. Without the corporeal bite of the vampire, Dommer’s psychology is still diseased by the thought of power. The vampirism eventually takes him over, a metaphor of the anger / vengeance he feels due to being bullied. “I‘m the strong one now,” he says before unleashing a bit of that vampire strength. In spite of his strength, he remains infected with a virus, signifying illness— exactly what masculine rage is, a plague.
Sabatella uses vampires in a way that doesn’t feel tired, even if the formula of the screenplay isn’t totally fresh. Doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel, because the plight of Stan, being caught between a rock and a hard place in a cesspool of toxic masculine ideals, is enough to make The Shed a worthwhile addition to the vampiric canon. The way Sabatella digs into masculinity, rural town atmosphere, and bullying is commendable, when he could have built a generic story after the opening, mysterious scene.
Although The Shed isn’t perfect, it’s fun, and says compelling things about how bullying can not only harm people, it can, occasionally, warp them into doing harm to others. Stan represents the majority of the bullied, who may feel like they want vengeance from time to time but would never actually harm someone else, whereas Dommer lets bullying bring out the worst of him. A timely message, dipped in a little bit of blood and gore.