Shut In (2016) / Thriller
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for terror and some violence/bloody images, nudity, thematic elements and brief strong language
Running Time: 91 min.
Cast: Naomi Watts, Charlie Heaton, Oliver Platt, Jacob Tremblay
Small role: Scott Fujita, Eddie Vedder
Director: Farren Blackburn
Screenplay: Christina Hodson
Review published December 4, 2016
Feeling like one of those cheap domestic thrillers that came and went in the early 1990s, especially the plethora of Stephen King adaptations (the Maine setting is but one of several homages), this is one throwback flick that certainly deserves little more than to be thrown back. After seeing superior terror-filled cinema in the vein of mother/son nightmares like The Babadook or stuck-in-the-house suspensers like Don't Breathe, this kind of cheap and generic attempt at a chiller just doesn't cut it any longer.
Naomi Watts (Allegiant, Insurgent) stars as child psychologist Mary Portman, living with her eighteen-year-old paralyzed stepson, Stephen ("Stranger Things", Vera), the victim of a car accident that saw Mary's husband perish. Stephen has always been a problem child, something that Mary feels guilty about not being able to solve before choosing to send him away, and now feels even more guilty that she has made a decision to send him away again so that he can get better care and so that she can move on with her life. A cold front brings in a major snowstorm to their town in Maine that has both of them trapped in their home, as Mary begins to have visions of a boy she thinks may be the ghost of a patient of hers who went missing, a troubled foster child Tom (Tremblay, Room). She's not sure if her visions are real or imagined, causing her to doubt herself as things within the home begin to seem increasingly more dangerous.
Relying on tired tropes and cheap scares, Shut In goes through the motions you'd expect, including the nature of the "big reveals" to come in the film's second half. Slow to build, dull to keep attention to, then too dark to really make out much of what's going on when it is supposedly getting exciting, the film fails to take hold for long enough to ever catch momentum. The film flirts with trying to bring in an element of supernatural horror, and yet the mood created by the story up to that point doesn't allow us to believe this angle for even a moment, mostly because we're already clued in as to the who and what that is going on, only watching the rest of the movie to try to discover the why.
Directed by TV-veteran Farren Blackburn ("Holby City", "Doctors"), working from a script from first-timer Christina Hodson, the entire production would feel like a made-for-basic-cable production were it not for the casting of Naomi Watts in the lead role, who must have been lured to the project more for the paper the check was written on than for that which exists within the script she may have been sent. In particular, Skype sessions between Mary and a psychologist colleague played by Oliver Platt (Rules Don't Apply) are particularly awkward in their execution, while also upping the 'ham' factor oof the film to the point where just about every development feels more ludicrous than the last. Those moments, as well as the cliches involved with gratuitous "it was only a bad dream" or "it was only a crazy hallucination" sequences, quickly erode any confidence that Shut In could turn around to become a nifty thriller by the second half. Alas, it just gets dimmer, both in terms of lighting and in terms of its intelligence.
Despite a respectable ensemble of talented actors, who've all seen better days, there's not much else Shut In has going for it to get a recommendation to anyone whose interest might be piqued by the premise. It has an unoriginal premise and a suspense-less execution, making it utterly disposable entertainment, even among thriller genre enthusiasts, who will see right through the many tells that are strewn about without abandon. You won't be biting your nails while watching Shut In, mostly because you'll be too busy using those hands to stifle a myriad of yawns while every minute of the film plays before you.
©2016 Vince Leo