The human mind is a mysterious, fragile thing. It’s easy to erase the notion of how simple things seem on the surface, then plunge into overthinking before crossing the line into borderline insanity. Put plainly and simply, Sheltered is one hell of a mindbender. From writer-director Daniel Jamal Judson, Sheltered follows a radicalized young man on a quest to save a girl he believes to be in grave danger.

Caleb (Tim Johnson) is a God-fearing, homeschooled teen charitably working in a soup kitchen, serving food to the less fortunate. He’s thrown for a loop when Sheena (Olivia Hawthorne) enters, who informs him that she is set to enroll in a program that could drastically improve her future. Needless to say, Caleb immediately falls for Sheena, but a nagging stream of thoughts won’t let him rest. In his head, something feels off. By his logic, there are sinister forces at play that oppose his worldview and are using the program to abduct Sheena for a malicious ritual. Desperate for answers, Caleb devises a plan to rescue Sheena from her ordeal. The film won Best International Narrative Short at the Dubai Independent Film Festival.

Needless to say, Sheltered goes off the rails relatively quickly with its narrative, but it’s all by design. Judson’s screenplay certainly features strong elements of satire, but there’s a layer of darkness that undercuts the drama. The short oozes an uneasy energy that feels more pronounced as the story moves forward. If you were a fan of Riley Stearns’ 2019 dark comedy The Art of Self-Defense, then Sheltered will be right up your alley. Just like Jesse Eisenberg’s Casey in that film, Caleb is made to question everything and everyone around him. Only here, every choice made feels ill-advised. The script isn’t so much a critique of politics; rather, it’s a showcase of an isolated event of misguided obsession and heroics.

Caleb’s narration consistently enforces how he sees himself as some kind of savior, anchoring the plot in such a way that the viewer is aware of his troublesome actions. Instead of questioning what’s right and what’s wrong, we are left pondering what will be Caleb’s next move towards retribution. That alone is a very scary proposition, given how dangerous certain situations get for him.

The film struggles a little when it comes to the chemistry between its characters. Some of the dialogue from Johnson and Hawthorne can feel awkwardly delivered and forced, but both settle into their roles by the time the real madness begins, Johnson especially. Other standouts include Andrew Nicolas Starr and Zach Ball, who deliver at their wacky best.

A demented comedy that doesn’t shy away from real-world implications, Daniel Jamal Judson’s Sheltered is an unhinged fifteen-minute treat for those willing to embrace its unique brand of commentary.




The human mind is a mysterious, fragile thing. It’s easy to erase the notion of how simple things seem on the surface, then plunge into

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