As erotic thrillers go, “Shelter Island” is decidedly eroticism-lite (not to mention thrill-challenged).
It’s chock-full of red herrings and plot twists galore as its denouement grows near, but in the end it presents a disturbingly negative picture of lesbianism in particular and women in general. This is particularly baffling as the would-be feature (it sold to Showtime in advance of any U.S. theatrical distribution) is presented here as the lead-in to the freshman-season finale of “The L Word.” It tells us that being a gay woman is really more of a convenience issue than a lifestyle choice — and perhaps a sinister one at that.
Shot on Long Island, the twisted “Shelter Island” stars Ally Sheedy as Sweet Lou Delemer, a professional golf champion-turned-motivational speaker who lives in a stunning penthouse — and out of the closet — with her beautiful companion Alex (the alluring Patsy Kensit). Lou is way serious and full of herself and seemingly wary of everything that moves. Her suspicions turn out to be merited, however, when she’s brutally attacked with a club-like weapon by an unknown assailant while jogging on the streets of New York.
Pretty soon, Lou is stepping out from the rat race for hours and days at a time to recover from her injuries at her idyllic weekend island retreat, accompanied by her beloved Alex. They’re semi-stalked by a well-meaning, seemingly buffoonish sheriff (Chris Penn) who seems concerned about their well-being with bad weather approaching. Suddenly, in the middle of a storm, misfortune comes calling in the form of Lenny (a nice turn by Stephen Baldwin), an enigmatic stranger who shows up bloody and dazed on their doorstep. He’s allowed to stay the night.
Meanwhile, Alex’s friend Carly (Mimi Langeland) — who may or may not be a lesbian love interest — dances around the couple, her character wholly underdeveloped. And when a car is abandoned near the vacation house, the sheriff grows as confused as we do about what in blazes is really going on here. It’s clear that Lou and Alex are uptight and Lenny is a smart-aleck jerk, but beyond that it’s all a little bit hazy.
The attempt at Hitchcockian mystery grows clearer as “Shelter Island” moves along. But by the climax of writer/exec producer Paul Corvino’s convoluted script, the goal appears to have been to pile on as many layers of deception as humanly imaginable. Any genuine plausibility, however, is strictly coincidental. Director Geoff Schaaf is adept at keeping his performers in the moment and the audience off-balance. But in the end, he’s left to try to mold a credibility jigsaw puzzle whose pieces have been strewn about haphazardly. It’s a losing proposition, even with the gratuitous nudity.
It doesn’t help matters that Sheedy and Kensit evoke such an utter lack of chemistry. They actually appear more like semi-affectionate buddies than gay women. A little bit more passion next time, please.
The film airs Sunday, April 11, at 8:30 p.m. on Showtime.