Overly Tricky Shut In a Simple-Minded Bore
Child psychologist Mary Portman (Naomi Watts) lives in relative seclusion in the furthest reaches of the New England wilderness. Still reeling from the tragic death of her husband six months prior in a car crash, much of her day is spent taking care of her invalid teenage stepson Stephen (Charlie Heaton), the 18-year-old left with what appears to be inoperable brain damage courtesy of the accident. With Mary’s clinical office right next door, the forty-something therapist moves back and forth with relative ease, her main contacts with the outside world being the patients she treats and her office manager and best friend Lucy (Clémentine Poidatz). She also chats regularly via Skype with mentor and supervising therapist Dr. Wilson (Oliver Platt), the pair currently discussing the pros and cons of moving Stephen to an upscale treatment facility located in upstate Maine.
With a major winter ice storm about to hit, things begin to go haywire for Mary after one of her former patients, partially deaf nine-year-old orphan Tom (Jacob Tremblay), goes missing in the forest next to her house. This causes the psychologist to begin questioning everything she does, not to mention her own personal sanity, especially after things start happening inside her home that defies any simple explanations. Mary comes to believe there is a ghost haunting her and Stephen. Worse, she thinks it might be Tom, and with authorities believing the boy might have died out there in the woods it only makes sense his spirit would be out seeking vengeance, even if his target is the only adult who ever went of her way to show him kindness and compassion.
Considering the quality of the cast, the cerebral suspense-thriller Shut In actually has quite a bit going for it. “Stranger Things” star Heaton is an up-and-coming young actor who oozes talent, young Tremblay knocked all of our collective socks clean off just last year in Room, while any movie that allows Platt to cut loose, if even only just a little bit, can never be all bad. And, of course, there’s also Watts, the two-time Academy Award nominee a bona fide superstar who, having helped make 2002’s The Ring a bona fide international sensation and was more than willing to explore the cerebral nasty side of human nature in David Lynch’s 2001 classic Mulholland Dr., is no stranger to trying to elicit a few gasps of unbridled terror from a wide-eyed audience.
The problem is, as terrific as the cast might be, as wonderful as the early sequences showcasing the horrifying auto accident and Mary’s daily travails trying to navigate its gruesome aftermath might be, the truth of the matter is that this supposedly haunting suspense flick is really rather boring. Director Farren Blackburn (Hammer of the Gods) does his best Roman Polanski imitation, utilizing a series of rather long takes, allowing cinematographer Yves Bélanger’s (Brooklyn) camera to explore the chilly interiors of Mary’s home with unnerving exactitude. At the same time, he’s also a big fan of tossing in pointless jump scares almost anytime he can, inadvertently diluting their power, and as such the one time one of these parlor tricks is genuinely required, the impact it had on me and most of the preview audience I watched the film with was disappointingly muted to say the least.
But it is Christina Hodson’s script that is most problematic. It relies upon a conceit that’s just not believable, and much like last January’s The Boy, the climactic twist around which everything revolves around is just too silly to take with even an ounce of seriousness. Worse than that, she establishes Mary as a complex, highly intelligent woman so the fact she never figures out what is happening is close to insulting. But even more damning? Hodson does a terrific job of showing her protagonist to be a strong mother and devoted therapist only to make those points moot as events spiral towards conclusion, thinking a couple throwaway lines of dialogue are all that’s necessary to make it all right.
The acting is thankfully good enough that watching the film is hardly a chore, and at barely 90 minutes the whole thing is over and done with so quickly lingering on its missteps for any longer than a second or to feels like a decided waste of time. But with twists of fate even Stephen King would blanch at and think both too contrived as well as overly cold-blooded, Shut In never becomes more than the sum of its overly familiar genre parts. It’s a waste of time and talent, the only saving grace being the movie is a so instantly forgettable the bad taste it leaves after it comes to an end thankfully dissipates from memory in the time it takes to exit the theatre.
Film Rating: 1½ (out of 4)