Shut In Trailer Hides Problematic Behavior in Plain Sight

The Anti Trailer of the Week

Have you ever watched a trailer, and though the plot seemed clear, you didn’t understand something. Maybe it’s a big-name Hollywood actor, actress, or director in a low-budget production. Or maybe it’s something written in the synopsis of the trailer on YouTube. This week, Shut In kept rearing its head in my search for the Trailer of the Week. Shut In looks like a low-budget indie film but has all the markers of a much larger Hollywood production. Hell, the movie even looks like it has potential, but as I started researching the film to write up, various red flags surrounding the film began to pop up. 

Shut In‘s trailer tell us that the film is directed by D.J. Caruso, who brought us Eagle EyeDisturbiaTaking Lives, and The Salton Sea. But what it doesn’t tell you is a lot. Controversy has surrounded this production since it started. And though the trailer looks harrowing, before you decide to see Shut In, it may be best that you know there are also plenty of reasons not to.  

Shut In

Now, I am not the type to tell anyone what they can and can’t do. I’ve watched my fair share of controversial films like Cannibal Holocaust, which is infamous for its scenes depicting animal abuse, as well as Victor Salva’s notorious Clownhouse, where the director was accused of sexual abuse by the film’s young stars during post-production then later convicted of the crime. Problematic films are out there. Sometimes, it’s better to understand what you’re getting yourself into rather than dealing with the conscientious consequences of having decided to watch it.

Let’s start with the film’s origin. Shut In was written by Melanie Toast and has been in production hell since the writer’s script was picked up by producers Dallas Sonnier and Amanda Presmyk in 2018. Toast’s screenplay made 2019s Black List / Blood List, making it one of the hottest scripts in the business. Shut In had even attracted the eye of Jason Bateman, who was initially supposed to direct the movie for New Line. It all seemed to be lining up. 

Before 2020, producer Dallas Sonnier was on fire. He was the head of Fangoria and was co-head of the production company Cinestate. Over the prior eleven years, Sonnier had been producing some of the edgiest films out there. You’re likely to recognize director S. Craig Zahler’s films Bone Tomahawk (under Caliber Media), Brawl in Cell Block 99, and Dragged Across Concrete, among others like Joe Begos’ VFW and Chelsea Stardust’s Satanic Panic. In early 2020, Sonnier’s Cinestate partner Adam Donaghey was accused of raping a sixteen-year-old on the set of David Lowrey’s 2016 film A Ghost Story 

Text from the VFW trailer that says from the producers of Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99

A flood of similar stories followed. Audio of Donaghey’s aggressive behavior toward crew members on the set of 2016s Occupy Texas was released, essentially putting Sonnier and Presmyk in the crosshairs. According to Dallas Observer, however, over a dozen people alleged the pair knew what was going on and turned “a blind eye to it.” The Daily Beast began calling Donaghey “the Harvey Weinstein of Dallas.” 

More stories about Cinestate productions began creeping out as well, including a female star ordered to perform sex scenes with a producer’s friend who had replaced an actor in the film at the last minute, women being harassed in a makeup trailer, an extra’s account of being groped during a shoot, and extras claiming they were severely hurt during fight scenes involving the lead cast on the set of VFW. 

D Magazine‘s Peter Simek writes, “Crew members claimed that 82-year-old veteran blaxploitation actor Fred Williamson attempted to grope a costume designer and made sexual overtures to someone in hair and makeup who quit the production over the abuse. (Williamson told the Daily Beast he’d done nothing wrong.) When female crew members reported the offenses, Sonnier and Presmyk reportedly told them it would be too expensive to fire Williamson and that they should use a ‘buddy system’ whenever they needed to interact with him.” 

Fred Williamson puts nails between his fingers while William Sadler watches in VFW
Fred Williamson and William Sadler in VFW

Last year, New Line let the option expire on Shut In. During this time, Sonnier was forced to sell Fangoria to Go Multimedia. His additional production company and media outlet, Rebeller, also ended abruptly after producing one movie, 2020’s taboo school-shooter Run Hide Fight.  Sonnier and Presmyk have basically changed the studio name to Bonfire Legend, one of the production banners you’ll see at the start of Shut In’s trailer. You’ll also notice another banner on the trailer for The Daily Wire.  

Now, I’m not particularly overzealous when it comes to the political polarization of films. One way or the other, I say let the finished product speak for itself and let society judge it. That being said, I do appreciate knowing what I’m getting into ahead of time or, in this case, who I’d be funding. Besides Bonfire Legend’s legacy, The Daily Wire is an ultra-conservative outlet that promotes Trump-era tactics through multiple mediums on their website. Contributors include Ben Shapiro, an executive producer on Shut In, and Candace Owens. Like previous Sonnier-produced film Run Hide Fight—which featured actual scenes of an animal being hunted and killed before devolving into what our James Godwin rebukes as “Die Hard in a High School”—Shut In will be available to stream exclusively through their platform in January with a twelve-dollar subscription.  

This revelation is coupled with the return of controversial actor/director Vincent Gallo in one of the leading roles. Gallo has been absent from films since 2013’s The Human Trust, but his history of inflated ego, maniacal rants, and questionable ethics seems like the wrong move for a rebuilding production house looking to market itself as safe in the wake of a scandal. Then again, if you team up with a far-right media outlet, you can politicize your company, spurring the perception of cancel culture by working with actors with notable pasts. Cinestate did this with Mel Gibson in Dragged Across Concrete. Now Bonfire Legend will continue with Gallo, who made similar incendiary remarks towards just about every facet of our culture, including racial epithets, declarations of anti-semitism, and gay-bashing. Gallo is also a pro-Trump political conservative, which may help efforts for the media outlet collect subscribers who want to watch right-wing actors in right-wing produced films.  

Vincent Gallo approaches a woman in Shut In
Vincent Gallo in Shut In

I’m trying to keep politics out of this, basically because they shouldn’t matter. However, it’s thoroughly peculiar that these problematic actors have found work under a Texas-based Republican production company and right-wing streaming media outlet. It is almost as if the company hasn’t learned its lesson and is inviting situations that will lead to further controversy. 

In a personal essay published by Another Man, Gallo claims that he threatened Harvey Weinstein after discovering what he had to actress Asia Argento, saying, “Harvey Weinstein is a brutal pig, yes, but I really wish it wasn’t those two particular girls getting glorified for now saying so.” Not only does he tear down the women that brought the problem into the public eye, but if we consider Gallo’s thought process, his decision to work with Bonfire Legend becomes a bit of a head-scratcher if you consider Cinestate’s “Harvey Weinstein of Dallas,” Sonnier’s alleged knowledge of the situation, and Gallo opting to work with his production company that rose from its ashes.  

I wish to convey that I am not above anyone seeking forgiveness through repentance in the pursuit of a comeback. We’re human. Mistakes are part of the deal. However, some people like Weinstein are beyond redemption, and there’s no coming back from the harm they’ve done. If Sonnier knew about Donaghey, he too might be far from redemption. Gallo feels like a provocateur, following in Gibson’s footsteps, but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

In 2006, Gibson went off on an alcohol-fueled rant to gain the ire of the Jewish officer arresting him, accusing Jewish people of being responsible for “all the wars in the world.” The reason Gibson hasn’t successfully found a resurgence has nothing to do with cancel culture. He acted in five features in the last two years, directed a film that earned him an Oscar Nomination, and has ten additional productions in development, including the John Wick spinoff series The Continental. It’s more likely that his actions are beyond reproach, and his reprised tirades against multiple ethnicities make any apology seem insincere.

Mel Gibson removes his hat in Dragged Across Concrete
Mel Gibson in Dragged Across Concrete

According to Megan Garber’s Atlantic article, “The actor and Oscar-winning director has also been recorded making disparaging remarks about Latinos and African Americans (guess which words he used for each?) and about gay men. He fumed, after the journalist Frank Rich criticized his film The Passion of the Christ, that ‘I want to kill him […] I want his intestines on a stick […] I want to kill his dog.’ Gibson called a female police officer ‘sugar t*ts.’ He referred to an ex-girlfriend as a ‘pig in heat.’ He hit her. And then he told her, ‘You f*cking deserved it.'”

Generally speaking, Gibson’s intolerance seems to be his own undoing. You wouldn’t want to play with a bully at a playground, and Gibson’s violent and hate-filled history makes it so much worse than that comparison. Gallo shows some repugnant similarities, calling critic Roger Ebert a “fat pig with the physique of a slave trader.” Reviling ex-girlfriend and co-star Chloë Sevigny by saying, “Connecticut without the etiquette,” then debasing her and Harmony Korine before suggesting the Oscar-nominated actress can’t “act properly.” Lambasting Abel Ferrara as “too high on crack to direct properly,” according to Jacques Peretti of The Guardian. And should he ever see this criticism, I’m sure he’ll call me plenty of names as well.  

Here’s the thing: there’s plenty of subversive films, actors, and directors in horror. A fellow writer on our sister site wrote a piece on Roman Polanski and surrealism in the film Repulsion, drawing the fury of a commenter over Polanski’s reputation. Not so hot take: Repulsion is a great film directed by a terrible person. The film itself deserves to be discussed, as does Polanski’s Chinatown, which sits at number twenty-one on AFI’s top one-hundred. Under that same lens, Braveheart is a great film and Gibson’s a good actor. I can recognize these things outside of the fact that they are problematic people. Shut In may also wind up being a great film made by questionable producers. Time will be the judge of that.

Watch at the discretion of your conscience. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you. 

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Written by Sean Parker

Living just outside of Boston, Sean has always been facinated by what horror can tell us about contemporary society. He started writing music reviews for a local newspaper in his twenties and found a love for the art of thematic and symbolic analysis. Sean joined Horror Obsessive at it's inception, and is currently the site's Creative Director. He produces and edits the weekly Horror Obsessive podcast for the site as well as his interviews with guests. He has recently started his foray into feature film production as well, his credits include Alice Maio Mackay's Bad Girl Boogey, Michelle Iannantuono's Livescreamers, and Ricky Glore's upcoming Troma picture, Sweet Meats.

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