Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Farren Blackburn
Writer: Christina Hodson
Producer: Ariel Zeitoun, Claude Leger, Christine Haebler
Stars: Naomi Watts, Oliver Platt, Charlie Heaton, Jacob Tremblay, David Cubitt, Clementine Poidatz, Peter Outerbridge
A widow caring for her crippled stepson confronts the mystery of a missing boy while isolated by a winter snowstorm.
By now, there may as well be a formal phrase for the ballooning subgenre of tepid thrillers whose template starts with a single woman in concurrent confrontations with a tragic personal issue and a seemingly supernatural mystery. What’s a word that could capture such a choking-on-clichés chiller guaranteed to include at least one scene of waking suddenly from a nightmare, slow corridor creeping culminating in false jump scares, a misdirect that it might all be in the heroine’s mind, and a box-of-rocks twist not nearly as clever as it thinks it is?
While we’re at it, there also ought to be a term for the semi-truck that is always speeding in the opposite direction whenever a movie car swerves to the wrong side of a road. That’s the first of many tropes setting “Shut In” in motion as child psychologist Mary (Naomi Watts) loses her husband and gains a catatonically crippled stepson.
Six months of spoon-feeding Stephen (Charlie Heaton) and changing soiled bedding on her own has Mary contemplating a formal facility to care for the formerly troubled teenager. If that weren’t anxiety enough, Mary also has the matter of deaf nine-year-old Tom (Jacob Tremblay), a problematic patient who ran away from his group home all the way to Mary’s garage.
Almost as soon as he arrives, Tom inexplicably disappears. A manhunt is mounted and as days pass in preparation for a blustery winter blizzard, Mary experiences haunting visions she thinks might somehow be Tom’s ghost. Dr. Wilson (Oliver Platt, almost literally phoning in his role over video chat) thinks Mary just has a sleep disorder. Yet as waking nightmares intensify and snow seals her inside, Mary becomes convinced that she and Stephen are not alone in their house at all.
“Shut In” comes close to creating a head-scratching starting point for its mystery. It isn’t immediately clear how Mary’s invalid stepson, vanished patient, impending superstorm, and assorted ancillary threads are planning to combine for suspense. But when that merge moment arrives to connect every preceding event, what last gasp of intrigue remains is exhaled by a ludicrously laughable reveal.
CONTEXT CLUE SPOILER
The story’s twist is ripped right from the David Cross episode of “Just Shoot Me.” Except where NBC’s sitcom rightly played the idea for laughs, “Shut In” presents it with a straight face.
Whoever greenlit the script clearly thought the twist was strong enough to make a memorable and marketable movie, since that’s the only hook it has apart from the cast. S/he was dead wrong.
Once the cat is out of the bag, “Shut In” has nothing left to give, and it didn’t give much before. Act three is no more than a lot of hiding in closets, secondary characters arriving on cue to take surprise stabs in the stomach, and more mundane movie conventions than you can unenthusiastically wiggle a stick at.
Pressed for something positive to say, acting is fine, if often disengaged. Charlie Heaton particularly plays his part well, even when swimming so deep in Edward Furlong angst he practically drowns. As in “Stranger Things,” Heaton has a distinctly smoldering look in his eyes of bearing a crushingly depressing weight on his soul, yet he is ready to snap into psychosis as soon as anyone dares light his match.
“Shut In” is so paint-by-numbers and bland, even a Thomas Kinkade gallery would be embarrassed to display it. ‘Uninspired’ isn’t enough of a word to encapsulate all of the useless filler like several single-scene players introduced and then promptly jettisoned or a limp love interest inserted with a forceful shove.
Speaking of words, did we ever come up with one that covers this specific category of commonplace cinema that includes so-so at best fright fare like “The Woman in Black 2,” “The Forest” (review here), “The Boy” (review here), and now “Shut In?” How about simply ‘forgettable?’
Review Score: 35