I’m sure it sounded good on paper. This thriller debut by Director Farren Blackburn was to be a tightly wound psychological piece, taking us through the unravelling of a mother’s mind as her family gets snowed in and experience ghostly happenings. But as you probably guessed – it’s not.
Although the movie shifts much-needed gear in the second part after an unbelievable twist, this chiller remains more schizophrenic than scintillating. It’s not a far shot to guess that writer Christina Hodson might have thought of the plot-twist first before working backwards to set it all up. Her arranged hopes of this thriller domino ended fairly early unfortunately.
The luminous Naomi Watts is Mary Portman, a child psychologist who loses her husband in a car accident at the start of the film. As she copes with her crash-surviving stepson Stephen (Charlie Heaton), who is now quadriplegic, she debates on her abilities as a caretaker to the boy. Ironically, a young patient of hers, Tom (Jacob Tremblay) is being taken away from her just as she is making progress. As she finally sends the boy away with a gift of her son’s scarf and beanie, she feels her potential to help snuffed out yet again.
This state of vulnerability and helplessness is meant to be stretched further, cooped starkly in the isolated house in Maine and the impending snowstorm. But even with some polished cinematography from Yves Bélanger and thoughtful simmering at the start, Shut In is simply preposterous.
When Tom later returns unannounced at her doorstep by himself, then within the next moment, disappears, you’re starting to wonder whose story this is about really. Worried for his safety, his disappearance soon takes on a nightmarish toll as it leads to a statewide search. The guilt-ridden Mary starts to experience ghostly footsteps and mysterious creaks, before going full-blown terrified when scratches start appearing on her son’s cheeks.
Her only confidante is her own therapist Dr. Wilson (Oliver Platt), who has been sharing his opinion and deeming the whole episode to be due to parasomnia. At this point, I wasn’t even aware that she was lacking sleep.
Everything that is positioned for a pay-off seems misfired. Mary’s insomnia wasn’t very pronounced, and her nightmares and scares often turn out to be red herrings – often accompanied by a loud aural clanging cue that grew irksome. Tom’s presence as a spirit isn’t very ghostly. And Stephen certainly isn’t going anywhere. Even when the blizzard hits and the environment traps Mary further in her nightmare – real or otherwise – it doesn’t really feel much that way, as Dr. Wilson easily drives up to her house when a situation arises.
After the big reveal midway through the film, it finally becomes a little more bearable as there’s less deliberation and Shut In finally goes straight for a traditional victim-escaping-from-slasher formula. The pacing picks up and though many of her decisions were highly questionable, it at least allowed for some tense moments.
The regular horror viewer must see many parallels to The Shining after the reveal – snow, axe, maniacal killer – but Nicholson’s axe represented horror, while this only gave us lots of bewilderment. Like a scene where Mary, after hearing noises while she was sleeping, saw Tom’s silhouette. She gasps and turns to look again, only to see the figure gone. As she leans back into bed relieved, a small hand appears to cover her mouth and the screen fades to black. I had no idea what that was about.
Shut In could have been a richly psychological piece supported by great production value, but unfortunately left too many doors open. Hodson’s effort is literally too drafty.
The cast, led by a vulnerable and frosty Watts, gives their best but cannot save a script that tries too hard. Please self-medicate with some believability.
The film is currently showing at all major cinemas.
First published: www.moviexclusive.com