Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
November 2016

Shut In

Waste not

On Shut In and the squandering of great talent with lackluster material

Shut In
EuropaCorp USA
Director: Farren Blackburn
Screenplay: Christina Hodson
Starring: Naomi Watts, Charlie Heaton, Jacob Tremblay, Oliver Platt, Clémentine Poidatz and David Cubitt
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 31 minutes / 2.35:1
November 11, 2016
(out of four)

The bottom line is that Naomi Watts should not be starring in a B-level horror flick to begin with, let alone one as ineffectually bland as Shut In. So let's just start there.

Watts, one of the most supernaturally talented actors of her generation, basically got her mainstream break in studio horror with Gore Verbinski's The Ring remake in 2002 (released about a year after she first gained attention with Mulholland Drive). Fourteen years later, seeing her back in basically the same boat feels like something of an insult, doesn't it? It's difficult to know how deals and projects come together, but I'm not sure what set of circumstances would have led to an actress of her caliber getting relegated to material that, frankly, doesn't require her.

Of course, there's always the one unfortunate possibility, which is that at a certain age, leading roles for women in mainstream studio pictures start to dry up. We've seen it happen too often. Indeed, Watts hasn't had a leading role in a studio film since 2011, Jim Sheridan's Dream House (co-starring with the similarly aged Daniel Craig, who in the years since has not had to resort to movies like this one to find starring roles). Granted, she's never been one to chase generic high-profile roles just for the sake of doing so, which is one of the many reasons her career has been so varied and interesting.

That remains to this day, with her recent lead turn in Noah Baumbach's While We're Young being one of her best performances - an indie role that, perhaps tellingly, embraced her age instead of resisting it. She also co-starred in the Best Picture-winning Birdman and has the lead role in an upcoming Netflix series on tap. But mainstream audiences would really only have seen her in recent years in the (seemingly now-defunct) Divergent series. If this is all entirely by choice - which it usually isn't - then I should keep my mouth shut. But if it's not, then the industry is doing one of its best actors a great disservice.

In Shut In, she plays Mary Portman, a psychologist somewhere in the Northeast, living and working in a remote area that allows her to stay home and take care of her invalid teenage stepson, Stephen (Stranger Things' Charlie Heaton).

Stephen was injured some months ago in a car accident that killed his father, and Mary has been taking care of him ever since. He's bedridden and mostly unresponsive - she feeds him, bathes him, clothes him, and in between she sees patients in the building next door.

One of those patients is a young boy named Tom (Room's Jacob Tremblay), who shows up mysteriously at her door one night in the middle of a snowstorm before disappearing not long after Mary takes him in. A manhunt ensues, but given the weather and the miles of woods surrounding the house - miles and miles from any town - Tom is presumed dead.

The film gradually focuses more and more on Mary's state of mind, besieged by guilt - at her husband's death and son's paralysis, the indirect result of her sending Stephen away to boarding school; and then Tom's disappearance, which compounds the guilt and her professional and personal anxiety. She's seeing a therapist (played by who else but Oliver Platt, who both she and we primarily see via Skype), who seems rather reassuring and even enthusiastic during their sessions together. Therapeutically, it seems he's not exactly much of a worrier.

But even he comes to realize, somewhere along the way, that something more serious is going on. A home intruder, perhaps. A supernatural force. A psychotic break. Needless to say, he decides to drive out there in the middle of a dark and snowy night. Needless to say, there is a third-act twist or two; you're not allowed to make a movie like this without one.

This is one of those situations where I can't even say the movie didn't live up to its potential, or squandered a cool idea, or has certain things going for it that the rest of the film can't live up to. No, in this case, there was sorely little potential to begin with. And there is not a single idea - cool or otherwise - to be seen. And it has nothing going for it. In fact, it's a case of Watts' presence actually being a sort of inverted negative; the film itself so clearly can't do anything interesting with either performer or character that she simply flounders, trying to save a story that doesn't deserve to be saved.

Watts deserves so much more, and so much better. Perhaps the Netflix series, Gypsy, will be a hit. Perhaps, like with the internationally financed The Impossible four years ago, she'll land a role that garners her another Oscar nomination. (She already has too few.) But let's just hope that she doesn't start making any more movies like this one. Shut In is quite enough of that.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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