Future house-buyers, you should remember one thing: the nicer and grander a place looks in the day, the creepier it will look at night. Never forget: the more rooms, wardrobes, cellars or attics a place has, the more places a maniacal axe murderer has to hide.
Mary, the protagonist of Farren Blackburn’s (The Fades, Hammer Of The Gods) latest thriller Shut In, should really have taken this advice. In sunlight, her lovely home resembles something you would see on House Hunters; when night falls, however, it becomes more like Ghost Hunters. With so many shadowy corners and secret spaces in it, you wonder why she doesn’t just renovate the place completely!
Speaking of renovations, by the way, this film could really use one too. Shut In is an odd fusion of two very different genres: a character-driven, psychologival study of the effects grief has on a person, and a jump-scare-laden survival horror flick.
Imagine if someone had decided to remake The Theory Of Everything, but as a horror movie, and throw in some elements of Sleepaway Camp as well, and you have this movie. This combo does occasionally result in some very nice moments, but ultimately, fails to really work.
Shut In is the tale of Mary (Naomi Watts), a child psychologist who has recently suffered a truly traumatic event: a car accident which resulted in the death of her husband and the paralysis of her stepson, Steven (Charlie Heaton, who audiences may recognise as Jonathan Byers from Stranger Things).
Mary soon begins to feel the strain of taking care of Steven on her own. To make things worse, one of her patients, Tom (Jacob Tremblay), is reported missing shortly after he makes an unexpected visit to her room one day. Faced with all this pressure, Mary becomes paranoid, soon imagining that there is someone in her house trying to harm her. But you know what they say: it’s not paranoia if there really are people out to get you…
The first half of Shut In unfolds quite well. While Blackburn relies a lot on jump scares and surreal dream sequences, there are some genuinely tense moments as Mary questions her sanity.
To his credit, the director does a good job of blurring the line between fantasy and reality, and does build an unsettling atmosphere in Mary’s otherwise very nice house. A scene involving a presence in a tiny cupboard is built up in truly sinister fashion, and is one of the highlights of this film.
All this, however, is undone by a rather ludicrous twist at the film’s climax. While genuinely rather shocking, it makes very little sense, and is not led up to sufficiently, to the point that it will probably make audiences scratch their heads rather than gasp upon seeing it.
This twist also disposes of the creepy atmosphere and psychological horror the film spent so much of its first half trying to build, devolving instead to generic, rather schlocky slasher film fare.
Which is a shame, as the cast is terrific. Watts is great as usual, infusing her character with a convincing balance of sorrow and nerve. She sells her character’s grief-imposed isolation so well that it seems very much in character for her to want to stay in a creepy old house on her own, despite many other people’s efforts to help her. Oliver Platt also does a good job as Dr Watson, Mary’s psychologist, who is dragged into this whole affair.
The movie’s younger cast members do not fare so well; Heaton is a little over the top as Steven, while Tremblay, so great in the Oscar-nominated Room, is largely wasted here, having nothing to do but play a generic kid in trouble.
All in all, the first half of Shut In is pretty excellent, and definitely worth a watch, if only to savour Watts’ performance as a strong woman coping with her world crumbling around her. In fact, if you ignore the ridiculous twist at the climax, pretending it is just a figment of her tired mind, the film becomes a great watch. As it is, however, it’s still pretty good entertainment, but little more.
Director: Farren Blackburn
Starring: Naomi Watts, Oliver Platt, Charlie Heaton, Jacob Tremblay