All Work and No Play Makes Shut In a Dull Movie

By  · Published on November 16th, 2016

A deeper dive into the grey area between reimagining and homage.

People often proclaim there are no new ideas left. Remakes, reboots, and reimagings have simply become part of the cinematic landscape, and while it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, I’m fine with it. An idea doesn’t need to be freshly plucked from an ever-blossoming (and non-existent) tree of epiphany in order to be entertaining and effective. All I ask is that you show me something different – something innovative. Because a repurposed idea isn’t an unforgivable offense, but wasted potential is. Shut In’s potential is vast, and often unexpected, but it seems to flounder at every turn.

A terrible accident leaves Mary (played by Naomi Watts) alone to take care of her catatonic stepson. She runs a psychiatric practice from an office a stone’s throw from her house, and is, for all intents and purposes, a shut-in. It’s there she begins treating a young deaf boy, played Jacob Tremblay. The boy goes missing, and as a storm approaches, we’re left questioning the sanity of our protagonist.

Except we aren’t, because the film tips its hand early. After a few jump scares and a massive reveal, what had appeared to be an exploration of a character’s tenuous grip on reality, the supernatural, and mental health is tossed out like bathwater. Instead, something magical happened: it became The Shining.

I’m not being hyperbolic, and I’m torn between wanting people to experience this for themselves and needing to scream it from the mountain tops, because, huh? Watching the finale of the film unfold without any idea just how committed it would end up was exhilarating, and I don’t want to take that from you, but here we go… Once we find out that the innocuous stepson is the root of all Watts’s troubles, he must smash his way through the locked basement door with an ax. He menacingly drags and swings and wields said ax as Watts and her newly reunited deaf ward cower. At one point, Watts runs out of the house, footprints peppering the freshly fallen snow, only to double back, retracing her telltale steps. She retreats back to the house to hide, hoping to trick him into searching for her in the snow.

Meanwhile, after a harrowing journey through inclement weather, Scatman Crothers – I mean Oliver Platt – shows up only to be murdered as soon as he crosses the threshold. The plot zips along, feeling intimately familiar, because it’s been harvested from The Shining.

Stay with me here: that’s not the issue I had with this movie.

Allow a momentary digression, if you will. Ideas can be repurposed, sometimes in large portions, and be used to create something new and interesting. Folks often point to Tarantino, but I’d rather use 2013’s Stoker as an example. Penned by Wentworth Miller, Stoker plays like the darker cousin to Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. It takes characters, themes, and ideas and uses them to create a haunting story that, while clearly influenced by Shadow, is its own brilliant entity.

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Naomi Watts isn’t allowed to do anything in Shut In. When she fears there’s something larger, more sinister happening, her therapist (Oliver Platt) talks her out of it – suggesting antidepressants. She’s assertive of her space and her boundaries, and is often found apologizing immediately after. She doesn’t trust herself, and while that’s obviously part of the film’s thrust, Platt uses his dying breath to tell fellow therapist Watts how to defeat her maniacal stepson. At every turn, it seems outside forces, or happenstance, step in rather than Watts herself.

Sometimes stories manage to wiggle away from me, and while I was lamenting the movie this wasn’t, there’s a chance I was missing something brilliant. The choice to portray Watts as a perpetual victim may have been part of the narrative – a statement on motherhood or mental health. She is, after all, only able to cast aside the pall of her old life when she has a new child to care for. Intentional or not, the character possess such an obvious lack of agency that I can’t be bothered to care about her motives.

Disappointments and issues aside, Shut In presented me with something truly surprising: a bizarre sort-of-homage. It defied my expectations as it hobbled it along, dragging the carcasses of other ideas with it. Sadly, Wendy Torrance is a more dynamic and capable heroine, and all my wishing and hoping couldn’t alter that fact.