I saw SHUT IN (2016) for the simple reason that Naomi Watts was playing the lead role, and movies with women in the leads, although becoming more common, are still few and far between.
This weekend I was treated to two movies with women in the lead— this one, and Amy Adams in ARRIVAL (2016).
And while Naomi Watts is very good here— really good— sadly, the movie is not. In fact, SHUT IN is pretty awful.
Psychologist Mary Portman (Naomi Watts) works out of her home in rural Maine, and the film opens with her and her husband about to take their troubled teen son Stephen (Charlie Heaton) to a new school since he was expelled from their local one. Stephen does not want to go and thinks his parents are trying to get rid of him. Mary says goodbye as her husband and Stephen drive away, but in an ensuing argument in the car, there is a tragic accident, killing Mary’s husband and leaving Stephen in a vegetative state.
The action switches to six months later, where Mary is treating a young disturbed deaf boy named Tom (Jacob Tremblay) while also having to care for her now bedridden and unresponsive son Stephen.
One night, just before the arrival of a massive snow/ice storm, little Tom shows up at her house, as he has run away, upset that he’s about to move to a new foster home.
I have to interrupt this plot summary with a complaint, and I have a few of those regarding this movie. At this point in time, what a perfect setting for a thriller- a woman trapped in her home without power due to an ice storm along with her comatose son and an emotionally disturbed deaf child. What a perfect set-up for them having to deal with some sort of outside threat. At this moment, I was thinking, this has the makings of an excellent thriller.
How can a movie with so strong a set-up mess it up so badly?
First off, this situation is never allowed to develop because before the ice storm arrives, little Tom runs away again and disappears into the woods. After a brief search, he is presumed dead. Creepiness ensues when Mary begins to hear strange noises in her house in the middle of the night while catching glimpses of what looks like Tom sneaking about. Her doctor, Dr. Wilson (Oliver Platt), who communicates with her via Skype, chalks it up to her emotional state and says she needs more sleep.
I had a lot of problems with the screenplay by Christina Hodson which seemed to throw common sense out the window.
First, when Tom arrives at Mary’s home, it’s in the middle of the night, and he’s alone. He’s asleep in her car with the driver’s side window smashed, inside her garage. Now, she lives in the middle of nowhere in rural Maine! Just how did this young deaf boy all by his lonesome travel from wherever he was through the snowy countryside in the middle of the night and get to her house? Not only isn’t this explained, no one in the movie seems at all surprised by this.
Plus, we’re expected to believe that this boy smashed the car window to let himself inside? If he’s inside her garage, why didn’t he just knock on her door so she can let him into the house?
Then, when he runs away again, it’s assumed that he disappeared into the woods and probably died. There’s even a ridiculous scene where the sheriff is at Mary’s house and says as much, and it’s all so casual— in fact, that they’ve been chatting over coffee, and it’s only a few hours since the boy disappeared! There’s no sense of urgency. It’s laughable.
Then, when she starts hearing noises in the middle of the night, and she catches glimpses of Tom inside her house, no one in the story suggests the common sense answer that just maybe he never left the house but is hiding somewhere inside? I certainly thought that, but not one character in this film considers this even once. Again, it’s common sense thrown out the window.
And so the premise of these characters shut in due to a winter storm having to face an unseen threat never comes to fruition because the threat is a different one altogether, one that is so ludicrous I had to fight to not laugh. The revelation in the film’s third act is a complete disappointment.
As directed by Farren Blackburn, SHUT IN is a by the numbers thriller. It actually plays like a horror film, even though there’s nothing supernatural going on here. Worse yet, there’s nothing all that horror-like happening either. There are your standard jump scares, your false scares where a character jumps and it’s revealed that oh, it’s just a harmless raccoon, and worst of all, the it was just a dream sequence.This happens more than once. We see something horrible occur, and then Mary wakes up from a nightmare. I felt very cheated by the frequent use of this plot device.
The third act becomes standard horror fare, as Mary has to defend herself from the threat which is finally revealed, but like I said, it’s such a ridiculous plot point, I couldn’t take it seriously at all.
Which is too bad because this movie wastes a really good performance by Naomi Watts. She plays both the tired, overtaxed emotionally drawn mother and the sympathetic insightful child psychologist. It’s a neat perfomrance, but she’s stuck in a very poorly constructed unbelievable story.
The two young actors are completely wasted here. Charlie Heaton, who was so good as Winona Ryder’s oldest son in the hit TV series STRANGER THINGS (2016), spends the bulk of this movie lying on a bed staring into space. Child actor Jacob Tremblay, who was phenomenal in ROOM (2015) plays the deaf Tom here and has no lines of dialogue, but worse yet spends most of the movie off screen showing up in glimpses in Mary’s dreams.
This changes in the film’s third act, but like I said, the revelation is so ridiculous at this point in the movie I stopped caring.
SHUT IN is an inferior thriller that suffers most from a poorly constructed story that not only wastes the talents of the actors involved, but also what could have been a nice setting and premise for an effective thriller.
It’ll leave you scratching your head and feeling cheated, in disbelief that this story was the best the writers could come up with.
Rather than feeling claustrophic and shut in, you’ll be feeling disappointed and shut out.