It takes something rather unique to stand out from the crowd in the horror genre. Countless endeavours are released every single year, but very few alleviate themselves from the standard fare, so many falling into the same hackneyed tropes we’ve seen time and time again. Farren Blackburn’s Shut In is one such film, without any sense of innovation, relying on easy to achieve jumpy moments to evoke feelings of terror, and failing miserably in the process.
Blackburn embraces the home invasion narrative, with Naomi Watts playing the widowed child psychologist Mary Portman, still grieving after losing her husband in a car accident six months prior. Her son Stephen (Charlie Heaton) was also involved in the crash and has been left with paralysis, and the struggle in attending to him full time is putting a strain on this beleaguered mother, who wrestles with the idea of putting him in a care home. Perhaps it’s her sense of guilt at the situation – which is suggested by Dr. Wilson (Oliver Platt) – that sees her so fervently keen to find her patient Tom (Jacob Tremblay), who arrived at her front door in the midst of a snowstorm, only to flee and disappear.
While lacking in ingenuity, there is argument that if it aint broke, don’t fix it – and there’s no denying that Shut In thrives in a formula that is tried, tested and triumphant. A conventional horror device perhaps, but to take the one place we feel most secure (our home) and put it under threat and have the protagonist feel so vulnerable in the comfort of her own abode does make for chilling cinema in parts. The isolation of Mary is highlighted throughout, particularly in the way Blackburn shoots the character, often from afar, in vast, empty rooms, heightening that sense of remoteness, presented in a voyeuristic manner, as though constantly being watched.
The character of Mary makes for an interesting entry point, for we spend large quantities of the movie questioning her own frame of mind, and whether or not this ordeal survives in her head, or is genuinely happening. Similarly to A Cure For Wellness, which is also released this week – it’s this very notion of ambiguity that the film thrives off, though at least the Gore Verbinski endeavour does appear to be subverting expectations somewhat, which sadly can’t be said of this underwhelming production. Naturally parallels can also be drawn to The Babadook, especially given the mother-son dynamic at the core of the narrative, yet, again, any such comparisons sees this Blackburn endeavour worse off.