Can Conservatives Make a Real Movie? “Shut In”

Starring Vincent Gallo and Rainey Qualley, “Shut In” is a new front in The Daily Wire’s war against liberal culture.

Self-consciously “conservative” movies inhabit a strange category. Those low-rent Steve Bannon and Dinesh D’Souza documentaries, or Christian blockbusters about the scourge of atheism (like the God’s Not Dead series, now in its fourth instalment), constitute their own strain of camp. They are, to borrow an academic term, paracinema: not so much a part of cinema as movie-like artifacts that exist beside it, like soft-core pornos and old state-subsidized hygiene films. Beyond their rough and ready production values and fluky humor—who can forget the intrepid D’Souza in 2016’s Hillary’s America, skulking through Democratic Party HQ, slipping into a storage room chock-full of state secrets, unguarded but for a “DO NOT ENTER” sign?—they suffer a more fundamental flaw: They are, at least for anyone not already predisposed to their message, impossible to take seriously.

The Daily Wire, the conservative media concern co-founded by filmmaker Jeremy Boreing and perennial talking head Ben Shapiro, is attempting to address the yawning quality gap between conservative movies and workaday cinema, producing and distributing what can, for lack of a better word, be deemed “real movies.” It’s a term Boreing himself used recently, introducing the new movie Shut In—the first feature film produced by The Daily Wire. “These are real movies!” he boasted in a prescreening round-table confab, protesting a tad too much. Considered alongside The Daily Wire’s regular yield of slanted reportage and commentary (recent pieces include a listicle of “America’s worst colleges for free speech” and a Shapiro-authored op-ed titled, “The Death of California”), these films are a new flank in the publication’s ongoing war against the (alleged) cultural dominance of the left. “We make what they don’t,” Boreing boasted, as the credits rolled over Shut In: “films that don’t push a secret hidden agenda.” Certainly not secret, no.

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A domestic thriller, Shut In stars Rainey Qualley as Jessica, a recovering addict and single mom, trapped in the pantry of a rambling rural farmhouse. It is directed, with workmanlike competence, by D.J. Caruso, whose Hollywood credits include the 2007 psychological thriller Disturbia and 2017’s Vin Diesel vehicle XxX: The Return of Xander Cage. Shut In is most notable for marking the return to the screen, after a near decade’s hiatus, of actor, director, and musician Vincent Gallo. Gallo plays Sammy, a slimeball meth addict and child molester, who serves as Qualley’s foil. Gallo is himself something of a bête noire, who might be easily grouped among the film’s gaggle of Hollywood outcasts, were it not for the fact that he never had much use for Hollywood in the first place.

The Daily Wire new entertainment division seems to be curating a stable of such ideologically consistent fellow travelers. Shut In was co-produced by Dallas Sonnier, another self-styled iconoclast who has developed, produced, and distributed genre movies outside of the traditional Hollywood pipeline. His company, Bonfire Legend, has recently borne a batch of genuinely thrilling, superviolent exploitation flicks (2017’s Brawl in Cell Block 99, 2019’s Dragged Across Concrete), lobbed right to the reactionary mindset. If Gallo lends Shut In a measure of prestige (or at least curiosity), Sonnier brings The Daily Wire’s shop something more critical: the basic know-how that operations as knotty as film production and distribution demand.

Drafting someone like Sonnier to their side of the culture war makes an intuitive sense. The Daily Wire has a built-in viewership base, about 35,000 of whom tuned in for Shut In’s web-only YouTube premiere. (The film is now paywalled on The Daily Wire’s website, with details of a wider release still forthcoming.) Still, the question nags: Why would Vincent Gallo throw his lot in with the Ben Shapiros of the world?

An auspicious talent who broke through in the late 1990s with the depressive indie crime thriller Buffalo ’66 (which he wrote, directed, and starred in), Gallo earned a reputation as a talented director and thrilling screen presence. An intense, hypnotic performer, he lent his stark, lupine looks to films by Francis Ford Coppola (Tetro), Claire Denis (Nénette et Boni, Trouble Every Day), and Jerzy Skolimowski (Essential Killing). With his mannered, mesmerizing way of speaking, and his Saint Laurent model looks, Gallo seemed, for a spell, like cinema’s reigning It Boy.

Yet he struggled to suppress his enfant terrible image, happily warring with critics who regarded his movies as anything less than masterpieces. He was booed at Cannes for his 2003 existential road movie The Brown Bunny, which the late Roger Ebert drubbed as the worst film ever to premiere at the prestigious festival. Gallo responded by telling Ebert he had “the physique of a slave trader.” His last feature as director, 2010’s Promises Written In Water, remains unreleased, following select screenings at film festivals in Venice and Toronto. In the past decade, he largely slipped from public notice, popping up occasionally to praise Donald Trump, sue Facebook, offer escort services, and hawk his own semen online.

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