It's been a hard few months for Mary.
The child psychologist's troubles began the day that Stephen, her stepson, was expelled from school. Then, as her husband was taking the kid to another school—the boarding variety for troubled teens—their car hit a semi head-on, killing her hubby and leaving Stephen essentially catatonic. Mary now doubles as his full-time caretaker: feeding him his porridge, bathing him, wiping his chin, hoisting him up in his wheelchair so he can watch television 12 hours a day.
Mary still finds time to work with other children when Stephen's in front of the telly. One of them is Tom, a child about half Stephen's age. Sure, the kid had his problems: He's deaf, for one thing, and parentless for another. Tom got in trouble for breaking another child's arm at school, too, and he does seem to get a little touchy when touched. But Mary's convinced that he was making progress while in her psychiatric care. Only now, suddenly, his caretaker plans to ship him off to Boston.
But Tom doesn't want to go. Mary realizes this when the boy shows up at her rural Maine farmhouse, hiding in her car. And when Mary calls Tom's caretaker, the deaf boy suddenly … vanishes. On a cold winter's night in Maine, with the temperature dipping well below freezing. And when he doesn't rematerialize in the morning, everyone fears the worst: Surely Tom has frozen to death.
But Mary can't shake the feeling that Tom's still around. She dreams about him walking the halls. Sometimes, she even sees him in doorways. Her own shrink tells her that she's likely just hallucinating a bit—the product of too much work and not enough sleep.
But then there are the little scratches she sees on Stephen's face …
Now, a brutal winter storm is bearing down on Maine. Those storms can terrifically damaging, shutting down power for days and blocking roads for longer. Mary's not overly worried about the storm. As she tells a friend, she's "weathered" worse. But still, it's yet another thing to ponder as she considers the scratching she hears in the walls.
The bumps at night …
The unused crawl space the door to which seems strangely ajar …
Oh, heavens. The kid's in the house, OK? One need not be a well-educated child psychologist to figure this out. The child is in the house. What you really should be wondering, Mary, is how in the world a 9-year-old kid got to your super-secluded, über-rural abode in the first place.
Mary is a nice lady. Every troubled child she treats is a "good" child at heart, she believes. They're just going through a rough patch. And she dutifully cares for her own stepson with tireless devotion.
Sure, Mary's trust in people—especially in her patients—proves to be at times misguided. And when she realizes that some kids are just a little too far gone to be saved, she risks her life and well-being to rescue others in her care.
Mary worries that she's seeing ghosts. Her psychologist assures her that she's not.
We see Mary in the bathtub a couple of times. At one juncture she gets out, and we see her nude from the side, leaning over a toilet. (Some of her breast is visible behind her arm.) Stephen gets baths as well, and audiences see him from the waist up.
[Spoiler Warning] Stephen isn't as paralyzed as he pretends to be. Moreover, he seems to have an unnatural attachment to his stepmother. He kills several people in order to be with her "forever," he says, and he embraces her from behind and kisses her gently on the forehead a bit more like a lover than a stepson.
Mary has dreams of hurting Stephen. In one, she pushes his head under the water while she bathes him. In another, she rushes into her farmhouse, then slams the door on her son's fingers twice, drawing a great deal of blood.
The movie's first casualty, Mary's husband, essentially takes place off screen. Stephen and his father struggle inside the car, sending it skidding in front of a truck when the screen goes dark.
The other casualties (and there are others) aren't dealt with such care.
One person is stabbed and left to die, bleeding out slowly. Another is thwacked on the head with a hammer—falling into a lake, where the body bobs around. Still another dies by—well, it's impossible to say how, exactly. The body is just discovered outside the farmhouse in a pile of snow, either grotesquely frozen or grotesquely burned in some mysterious manner. I think it's supposed to be a character we meet earlier, though what that character is doing at the door is unexplained. I suppose it's even possible that they just rarely open that particular door and that the body's been sitting there for years. Another of the film's real mysteries.
People get their hands scorched on stoves and beaned with frying pans. Someone is tied up naked in a bathtub. Several folks suffer cuts and bruises. Characters struggle against other characters. We see a scar on Stephen's shoulder. Windows break.
Crude or Profane Language
Two f-words, four s-words, six misuses of God's name and one abuse of Jesus' name.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Stephen is regularly given strong drugs because of his condition. When Mary has her own blood tested, her shrink discovers those same drugs in her own system, which concerns them both. Later, Mary is forced to swallow one of Stephen's pills.
We see Mary drinking wine, both alone and with another person.
Other Negative Elements
Mary drinks shampoo in order to make herself vomit. She succeeds.
I'm writing this review in the late fall of 2016, normally a season when studios are beginning to release what they think are their very best movies, prestige dramas they hope will merit awards consideration.
Shut In is not one of those movies.
Sure, it stars Naomi Watts, a two-time Oscar nominee. We can only assume that she owed the movie's makers a very, very large favor. It was created by folks who, perhaps, have never ventured far from the world's equatorial regions. Otherwise, it's difficult to explain why a horrific winter Maine snowstorm would be so rainy, or why during the same snowstorm—at night, mind you—the nearby lake would be completely free of ice. Is it possible that the lake is actually filled with ethyl alcohol? Does the story take place in a distant time when global warming has created some eerie microclimate around Mary's house? Answers are elusive.
Shut In is a thriller without the thrill, an exercise in jump scenes without the jumps. While it stays within its PG-13 confines, it strays wildly from any sort of logical cohesion. Audiences will see skin. They will see death. But if anyone sees any sense in this movie, please have them contact me.
Far be it from me to tell anyone what to see or not see. But if I was to offer a word of advice, I'd tell you to shut out Shut In.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Naomi Watts as Mary Portman; Oliver Platt as Dr. Wilson; Charlie Heaton as Stephen Portman; Jacob Tremblay as Tom; David Cubitt as Doug Hart
Farren Blackburn ( )
November 11, 2016