Shutter Island – Horror… Or Not?

Shutter Island – Horror… Or Not?

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  1. Martin Scorsese directing a horror film?!  Awesome!  Oh, wait… the trailers make his 2010 psychological thriller, Shutter Island, look like a horror film but it’s not.  Shutter Island is based on a novel by Dennis Lehane who also wrote the novels that inspired Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River.  So you know it’s good source material because those two films are great and were nominated at the Oscars.  Shutter Island, however, was not.

    What is it about?

    The film is set in 1954 and follows two U.S. Marshals, Teddy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), who are sent to a hospital for the ciminally insane, Ashecliffe, to investigate the disappearance of a patient named Rachel Solando (Emily Mortimer).  Due to a big storm, they end up being stranded on the island that contains the prison.  Their time there reveals that the staff seems to be hiding some things.  To complicate things further, Teddy starts to have migraines, visions of his involvement in a brutal massacre, and dreams of his wife who was killed in a fire set by Andrew Laeddis.  Teddy tells Chuck at one point that he took the case so he could find Laeddis.

    As their investigation deepens, Teddy decides to search Ward C even though he was forbidden to go in there.  Inside Ward C, he finds a creepy patient named George Noyce (Jackie Earle Haley) who tells him that Ashecliff has been performing experiments on their patients and, the ones that can’t be cured, get lobotimized at the lighthouse.  He also tells Teddy that everyone on the island, even his partner, is working together to play a game designed to help cure Teddy.  He’s not so sure he believes this as he meets back up with Chuck and they head for the lighthouse.

    They get separated, though, and Teddy finds a woman that claims to be the real Rachel Solando (Patricia Clarkson) hiding out in a cave.  She tells Teddy that she used to be a psychiatrist at Ashecliff but, when attempting to alert the authorities concerning the mind control experiments occuring there, they committed her as a patient.  Teddy, starting to question what’s real and what’s not, isn’t sure whether to believe this woman or not either.  Once he leaves the woman, he can’t find Chuck and the lead doctor, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), tells Teddy that he arrived alone – not with Chuck.  Teddy’s reality unravels further as he finally finds out the truth about his wife and Andrew Laeddis.

    Is it any good?

    Martin Scorsese is one of the best directors to ever make movies.  He knows how to tell a story and entertain an audience.  This film, however, is not one of his best.  It’s still good, but it doesn’t live up to films like The Departed, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Gangs Of New York, etc.  One problem is that the twist is not much of a twist.  It is easy to figure out just from the trailers.  The film does, however, almost save itself with the final line of dialogue that makes you wonder if the "twist" you think happened is really what happened… confusing, I know, but watch it and you’ll understand.

    The other problem with this film is the pacing.  It’s strange for Scorsese to have pacing problems, but it’s probably because there is so much to explain in this narrative.  That makes the film require more exposition which has to show up somewhere; so, the film slows down at times in order to explain everything and it breaks the solid pace that has already been established.  Slight shifts in pace are good, but screeching halts are not.

    The best thing about this film, however, is the cinematography.  Especially the daydreams that Teddy has… they are stunning.  The lighting is beautiful; the images are gorgeous; the colors are vibrant; they look perfect.  Even the flashbacks to the massacre are beautiful despite being brutally violent.  It’s also a very interesting choice to have the shooters in the massacre scenes shooting at the camera… or the audience.  It’s in your face and it’s shocking, but it’s amazing.

    Nolan’s Grade:  B- 

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