Directed by Farren Blackburn
Beginning last November, Shut In came and went from theaters in the blink of an eye, grossing less than $7 million domestically over 8 weeks. Nothing about the psychological thriller looked to elevate it above a paint-by-numbers tale about a woman losing her grip on reality in a remote, snowy locale.
But it stars Naomi Watts, who always seems game to return to the horror genre now and again, along with two young actors who are pretty popular at the moment (Charlie Heaton of “Stranger Things” and Jacob Tremblay of Room, Before I Wake, and the upcoming The Predator) so when the Blu-ray arrived, I decided to give it a look-see.
Watts portrays Mary Portman, a child psychologist who works from home, a large, meandering house with a detached office in a rural part of Maine. She’s recently widowed and cares for her stepson, Stephen (Heaton), who was severely injured in the car crash that killed his father and is unable to communicate or fend for himself.
Mary seems a bit frazzled by it all; but she gamely keeps up her practice, becoming especially attached to one patient, Tom (Tremblay), a young deaf boy who, she’s just learned, is being sent to a group home. This knowledge feeds into her guilt that her husband and Stephen only got into the accident because they were fighting about the couple sending the boy away to school since he had become too much for them to handle. On top of that, she’s now planning to place Stephen in a facility in order to provide for his long-term care.
So, yeah, all this family drama is going on; but meanwhile, weird things are happening at the house… Tom shows up out of nowhere in the freezing night, and then, just as mysteriously, disappears. Of course a blizzard is heading their way, and a search is launched to find him with Mary fearing that he’s already dead. She hears odd noises and has a couple of frightening experiences that end up being dreams – or are they? – and there’s where my attention started to drift.
But then it took a turn, and wait a minute… are we watching a possibly Shining-esque ghost story now? That kept things humming along for a bit; and as the third act kicked things into high gear, the filmmakers flipped the script on everything we thought we knew and turned it into a full-blown “WTF just happened?” good time! Unfortunately, to say anything more would derail that good time for anyone else so I’ll just wrap up with some of the other reasons why Shut In is worth a watch.
First and foremost is Watts. With Heaton virtually comatose and Tremblay silent throughout, the bulk of the story rests totally on her shoulders. She gives her all and gamely carries it as Mary runs a gamut of emotions and is put through some grueling, rather invasive physical torture at one point in the film. Her co-stars that do verbalize, Oliver Platt as a caring doctor that she Skypes with for consultation and support and David Cubit as the father of one of Mary’s other patients with whom she tentatively tests the dating waters, both add welcome respites of normalcy. Poor Mary is so self-contained and secluded that as a viewer, I was just glad to see her have some real human interaction.
But those moments are few and far between as director Blackburn (a veteran of TV series like “Daredevil,” “The Interceptor,” and “Luther”) keeps the tension and suspense ramped up. He manages to capture the isolation felt by not only Mary, but also Stephen and Tom, with gorgeous shots of the frosty scenery supplemented by long stretches of taut silence.
Screenwriter Christina Hodson is to be commended as well for turning the tables on several tropes. But again, I can’t elaborate without spoilers so I’ll just say she and Blackburn can be found in the featurette “Nightmare vs. Reality: Imagining Shut In” with more info on how everything came together on the project. The other extra, “House on Delphi Lane: A Classic,” is, as its title suggests, a look behind the scenes at a location that truly is a character in and of itself.
While Shut In might have met a chilly reception at the box office, it should find a warmer response on home video. If you welcome it in from the cold, once you make it through its slow-burn beginning that lulls you into a false sense of familiarity, you’ll be rewarded with a finale that takes some risks as it plays out its twists.
- Nightmare vs. Reality: Imagining Shut In
- House on Delphi Lane: A Classic