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By Chaz Lipp

Maybe the screenplay for Shut In was better on paper. The Christina Hodson-penned script landed on 2012’s “Black List,” Hollywood’s annual roster of most-liked, unproduced screenplays. For point of comparison, that means it was in the company of Arrival, Hell or High Water, John Wick, and Whiplash. Two-time Oscar nominee Naomi Watts appears to have no shortage of work available to her, yet she signed on to star as the emotionally-troubled psychologist at the center of Shut In. The results don’t really justify the efforts.

Director Farren Blackburn struggles to maintain a level of general competency throughout, but the plot turns consistently strain credibility. Mary (Watts) loses her husband in devastating automobile accident that also leaves her stepson Steven (Charlie Heaton) paralyzed and in a vegetative state. Living in a remote, wooded area, she runs a children’s mental therapy clinic. While Steven sits in his wheelchair, parked in front of the TV all day, Mary meets with the town’s troubled kids. She has a strong (but strange) bond with Tom (Jacob Tremblay, Room), a partially deaf child with behavioral problems. When it’s revealed Tom will be transferred to a special school, Mary feels like her most promising case is being ripped from her.

shut-in-naomi-wattsWatts goes all in as Mary, painting as vivid a portrait of mental instability as the screenplay allows. Mary’s Skype sessions with psychiatrist Dr. Wilson (Oliver Platt) are so regular (and unproductive) it calls her own professional abilities into question. When Tom goes missing after running away from his caretakers, Mary becomes convinced the young boy is secretly living in her house. Director Blackburn blurs the line between dreams and reality as Mary is increasingly haunted by disturbing nightmares. Does she secretly want Steven dead in order to free herself from the burden of caring for him? Could Tom be her “new son” if only she could locate the missing boy? What’s actual real and what is just Mary’s mind playing tricks on her?

As the first hour of Shut In drags on, it becomes clear there’s not much depth to explore. It’s mostly a time-marking exercise until we reach the hysterical, slasher flick-style climax. The film’s central twist is only truly terrible when it’s fully examined. In a way that sums up the entirety of Shut In. It’s difficult to recommend a film that’s ultimately so inconsequential that it evaporates under any scrutiny. We never understand why Steven’s relationship with her parents was so bad prior to the debilitating accident. It’s unclear how Tom can hear as well as he does, yet be mute due to his supposed deafness. The more lurid aspects of the characters’ relationships are largely unexplored, when they could’ve been exploited to up the film’s ‘ick’ factor.

While it’s not the worst fright flick to hit theaters in 2016 (see The Darkness starring Kevin Bacon), Shut In deserves the chilly reception it has received.

Shut In Images: EuropaCorp

Chaz Lipp

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