Shut In and all the images you see in this review are owned by EuropaCorp
Directed by Farren Blackburn
So when did this movie get announced, because I didn’t know anything about it until I looked up the new releases for this week. It’s not like Naomi Watts is an unknown actor, and horror movies are big business right now, so the fact that I didn’t even see a trailer for this at any of the horror films I saw this year is not a great sign of what’s to come. Still, it’s not like movies that get a whole bunch of press are guaranteed to do any better, and a lot of great horror films don’t even get a theatrical release, so maybe they just didn’t know how to sell something like this. Does this film deliver yet another fantastic horror experience in a year that has already had so many, or will this just get lost in the shuffle? Let’s find out!!
The movie follows the Portman Family who at one point consisted of three able bodied and happy members, but after a car accident has been reduced to the mother Mary (Naomi Watts) and her son Steven (Charlie Heaton), the latter of whom has suffered severe brain damage and is pretty much unable to move or communicate. After six months of this routine where she cares for her son and then goes to work as a childhood psychologist, things start to change when one of her patients Tom (Jacob Tremblay) is being moved to Boston so that he can get more specialized care. The night after Mary finds this out however, Tom shows up at her doorstep… well technical he smashes the window to her car and crawls inside, and while Mary is trying to figure out what to do next, the boy disappears into the night. So not only is she dealing with her son who is in need of constant care, she now has a possible dead boy on her conscious (they’re up in Maine so it’s snowing all the freaking time) and starts to hear things go bump in the night along with a series of night terrors that are making it hard for her to distinguish between fantasy and reality. Are the things that Mary is hearing at night real and a possible threat to her and Steven? Will Tom be found at some point, or is he really just a kid-cicle waiting to be uncovered once Spring rolls around? Wait, didn’t I see this movie like a year ago!?
This movie is REALLY trying to be more than another typical horror flick, but it’s constantly getting in its own way by indulging in some of the worst characteristics of modern spook films. It wants to be The Babadook, and in certain areas it does succeed, but the cheap jump scares, the over reliance on dream sequences, and the dumb, dumb, DUMB decisions our main character makes undercuts what was clearly intended to be a CLASSY horror film that’s hoping for some of that critical prestige that The Babadook, The Exorcist, and other less exploitative entries in the genre were able to garner. It’s a sixteen year old trying to act cool by washing his hair, going overboard with the Male Fragrance, and completely forgetting that he has no social skills and forgot to brush his teeth. You want to give it credit for the effort, but it’s just not there yet and needs to spend a bit more time at the drawing board.
What works in the movie is its stark and barren cinematography, its ability to build believable tension, and a third act that’d quite thrilling to watch unfold. Each of these strengths however is brought down by flaws that seem almost baffling in a movie that’s aiming so high. The cinematography is nice, but the world they’re setting up feels too clean and generic. I don’t know much about Maine households, but even past the fact that this house has a wood fire stove and doors with keyholes (old timey key holes too), the only sense that someone has lived in here past 1965 is the HD TV in the living room. I’m ASSUMING this is supposed to take place in modern day, but there’s no… personality I guess to this house to indicate Gen-Xers and their Millennial kid actually live here. Hell, a running theme here is that () sings that Hush Little Baby lullaby to her eighteen year old son and it’s something that symbolizes their connection. All I could think while watching this though is why the hell is THAT their song when this is supposed to be taking place in a time with MP3s, Trap Music, and Beyoncé. You’re telling me she couldn’t even scrounge up a Dolly Parton song or s Stevie Nick’s track, or was the budget not there for anything that would have cost royalties? It feels like such an odd choice to both let everyone know that this is set in the modern world (she uses Skype frequently) yet make this feel so out of touch with the rest of the world. I guess the idea was to make them feel isolated, but it just makes things feel phony and staged.
There’s definite skill behind the camera when it comes to making an ordinary house feel threatening, and the use of darkness and stillness throughout is very effective, but the payoff for these buildups are often terribly executed. The first night that spook stuff starts happening, not only do they do a jump scare with a simple raccoon (he’s not even moving in a threatening manner), but the soundtrack smashes all its instruments at once and turns the volume up to eleven which is what you’d expect from a crappy found footage movie; not something that’s trying THIS hard to be taken seriously. On top of that, the movie has no less than three (maybe even four) fake out dream sequences which are another hallmark of underdeveloped horror films (*cough* The Forest *cough*) and it only ended up pulling me away from the movie rather than getting more invested. I understand what they were doing as they wanted to blur reality and fantasy together at least to a certain extent so that there can be some ambiguity in later scenes as whether what we had just seen actually did happen. The problem is that the movie is too grounded for something like that to work which requires a much more dreamlike tone throughout rather than random fake outs. Movies like Repulsion, Suspiria, and The Shining are great examples of blending the two together as it allows the audience to buy into the stranger aspects of the world created in the movie while also not going so far as to make the out of the ordinary elements meaningless. The dreams in here aren’t all that scary and come off as rather stupid once they play their hand and let us in on the fact that we’re watching a dream, though there is an early one that was pretty effective that I won’t spoil here, but that only further illustrates how dumb the rest of them are. Also, there’s a point in the movie where something DOES happen that may or may not be another dream, but this becomes one of those moments where a character, whether or not they think what they saw was real, should have looked for what they saw the next morning (in full daylight) and it would have probably ended the movie there rather than lead us into the third act. I know that’s a bit vague, but it’s an example of that old horror movie trope where a character does something dumb for no other reason than to keep the plot going, and is something that shouldn’t be a movie trying THIS hard to be the thinking person’s horror film.
Now the third act is pretty effective and I honestly don’t have any complaints about the execution of it. It’s actually rather refreshing for a horror movie to get BETTER as it goes along rather than fall apart completely at the end (*cough* Don’t Breathe *cough*), but how we get into the third act and the big twist of the movie… well let’s just say that it gives Shyamalan a run for his money as far as unbelievable twists go. It’s not even that it’s poorly executed as the hints they’re dropping throughout the movie do lead back to what ends up happening (there’s a really obvious bomb they keep dropping throughout that might clue you in), but what ends up happening is something that should have been obvious to anyone there, and only isn’t obvious to the audience because we ASSUME that someone wouldn’t actually miss something this obvious. Now once we get past the stupid explanation of how THE BAD GUY was able to pull all of this off, it does become a damn fine thriller at that point with great use of camera angles, a really energetic performance from THE BAD GUY, and they even throw in a few direct reference to The Shining which I kind of appreciated; especially one that’s more about taking the piss out of a particular moment in that movie rather than simply recreating it. Now I DO kind of wish THE BAD GUY’s motivation was less assumed and more directly shown in the movie (maybe a few flashbacks to fill in the gaps of how THE BAD GUY ended up with this specific motivation), but then it’s not all that hard of a sell once you find out what his motivation is, so it’s only a minor issue in a third act that’s almost worth the price of admission on its own.
This movie was biting off way more than it could chew, and I’m still not sure how cyclical it’s aims at being a respectable horror film were when the result has this many obvious mistakes. Maybe they really wanted to make a great horror film but didn’t have the skills, or maybe someone wanted to cash in on The Babadook and thought a soulless copy of it would be good enough. Either way, it’s definitely not worth checking out at the theaters, especially when so many of the really good horror movies of the year are out on video and you can check them out there. You might want to see this once it has its home release as well, but in a year that already has way more solid horror films than anyone expected, this is just not up to par.
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