THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Shut In is a very bad movie anchored by a very good lead performance. Naomi Watts plays Mary Portman, a child psychologist whose husband is killed in a car accident that also leaves her stepson Stephen (Charlie Heaton) physically and mentally incapacitated. She cares for him in their remote Maine compound, never leaving the premises. Trouble begins when one of Mary's patients, a deaf boy named Tom (Room's Jacob Tremblay), goes missing and is presumed dead. Late at night, she hears strange noises throughout her house. Mary thinks she sees Tom prowling around, but perhaps she's going crazy from the stress of everything. The psychiatrist (Oliver Platt) with whom she Skypes tries to help her figure that out before a major snowstorm hits, leaving the boy in peril if he's really there.
Naomi Watts rarely gets the attention she deserves. She is one of our best, most important actresses. Whether in a heavy drama like The Impossible or a popcorn horror flick like The Ring, she gives 100%, always delivering a fully committed performance. With Shut In, Watts goes deep, creating a portrait of a woman overcome by grief and regret. The car accident took place while her husband was driving the troubled Stephen to a behavioral facility that he desperately didn't want to attend. Every ounce of Mary's inner torment over this comes through in the actress's work, which makes her desire to find - and potentially save – Tom before the storm arrives extremely palpable. By saving him, she could possibly save herself.
As phenomenal as Watts is, Christina Hodson's screenplay lets her down. In fact, “screenplay” might not be the right word here. Shut In feels like it was assembled from an outline rather than from a carefully-polished script. Without delving into spoilers, there are two things the movie needed to do in order to make the story pay off. The first is to fully establish the relationship between Mary and Charlie prior to the accident. Since the wreck takes place during the very first scene, that doesn't happen. The second thing is to show more of the work Mary was doing with Tom. Shut In falters on this count, too. Tom is just barely introduced, so the reasons why he might possibly be looming around her house are hazy at best.
Because these two vital things are so sloppily handled, the movie grows less meaningful the longer it goes on. Something important happens in the third act that feels utterly random, simply because Shut In has done such a poor job of setting up the elements that would have given the twist some punch. Instead, we are left with generic attempts to generate thrills, all of which are variations on the usual cliches: a raccoon pops out, a door slams, etc. Nothing about it is remotely creepy or scary. Meanwhile, a delightfully sick implication about one character's motives is frustratingly kept at a surface level, apparently to hold the movie at a PG-13 level. Big mistake. Why squander a truly twisted idea in a movie that's intended to be unnerving?
Shut In could have been a terrific picture about a woman whose guilt over something that isn't her fault starts to eat away at her. And it is that movie for a while. Naomi Watts was clearly making that movie. Hodson and director Farren Blackburn, on the other hand, seem to have been making a generic woman-stranded-in-a-remote-house chiller. That's a shame, because the actress ends up giving yet another stellar turn in a film that doesn't earn her dedication.
( 1/2 out of four)
Shut In is rated PG-13 for terror and some violence/bloody images, nudity, thematic elements and brief strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 31 minutes.
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