89. Shut In

I mentioned, yesterday, that Amy Adams – the star of Arrival – is my favorite actress.  Well, I got a cinematic treat, this weekend, because Naomi Watts is my second-favorite actress (along with Elizabeth Olsen) and she has a new movie this weekend, as well, with Shut In.  Watts won me over, time after time after time, in films like The Ring, 2004’s King Kong, The Impossible, and one of the greatest films of all time, David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr..  This particular film seemingly dropped out of nowhere with little to no fanfare.  Despite Watts being surrounded by a capable cast (it’s nice to see Room‘s Jacob Tremblay pop up, again), I didn’t go in expecting much.  And this film probably won’t make a lot of money or get a lot of attention.  But I can’t resist a small, simple thriller starring Naomi Watts.

I have to say that, even though I wasn’t expecting much, I was expecting more than I got.  Shut In is director Farren Blackburn’s first feature film and it’s painfully obvious.  I’ll start with the positive, though.  As expected, Naomi Watts delivers.  It feels like she challenges herself to elevate the picture with her own two hands (there’s no way she truly thought the film was going to be good, overall) and she succeeds as much as anyone could have been expected to succeed.  She gets some nice moments to show off but there’s nothing in the script to make her character particularly memorable.  What Watts does is make the movie watchable, and she should get proper credit for that.  On the other hand, as talented as he is, poor little Jacob Tremblay goes completely to waste, here; any other child actor could have filled his spot adequately.

Outside of that, Shut In is a poorly-structured, unfocused mess.  Tiptoeing around spoilers is going to be a little tricky, but I can easily say that the film does nothing to even announce what it’s truly about until it’s nearly over.  I kept waiting and waiting, asking myself what the narrative actually was, outside of the occasional unexplained moment that makes Watts’s Mary Portman question if her house is haunted.  Beyond that, there’s a small cast of characters around Portman that she has conversations with and things happen to, but rarely seem to have any direct effect on her life, other than the events of the prologue.  The actual title of the film doesn’t even apply until the film is more than an hour passed (and it’s only an hour-and-a-half long).

While watching the movie, it constantly feels like Blackburn thinks he has a truly great and memorable film on his hands.  But instead of telling an honest, believable story and allowing it to speak for itself, Blackburn tries to force it on us in all of the most clichéd of ways.  There are predictable jump scares.  There are overly dramatic shots accompanied by intrusive blasts of the score (to make sure we all know how scary it’s supposed to be).  And there’s a twist.  But it’s in no way a natural twist that makes the viewer mentally slap themselves because they should have seen it coming.  It’s a twist so ludicrous and so absurd that it borders on insulting the audience’s intelligence.  Based on the world this film and these characters inhabit, the entire climax is just entirely implausible.  Character motivation have no logic behind them, nor does cause-and-effect.  I don’t understand how a script like this gets approved by a major Hollywood studio when there’s so much great competition out there.  It all just comes across as silly.

The further into the film I got, the more I understood why it hadn’t been advertised until a week ago.  And with other films like Doctor Strange, Hacksaw Ridge, and especially Arrival currently in theaters, there’s no reason to spend time or money on Shut In unless you’re a huge fan of Watts, Tremblay, or Oliver Platt (who comes off like he’s acting, here.  Very hammy performance.).  The entire film is lazily constructed around a single hook/twist with no effort put into making the twist believable or narratively rewarding or even in building to it.  It’s almost as if that guy who works at your local GameStop but thinks he’s a Hollywood screenwriter just waiting to be discovered said to his buddies, “Hey what if this crazy thing happened?  Can you imagine?  I’m going to write a movie where it does!”  And, instead of his buddies saying, “Uh, no,” a major Hollywood studio said, “Great!  Let’s do it!” before realizing they had a disaster on their hands and just shoved it into theaters in an effort to make any money they could on it.  So, I suggest you don’t bother.  Unless you have a special reason to see this one, do yourself a favor and see one of the three I mentioned above, instead.

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