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“SHUT IN” (Film Review)

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One of the things I love about horror is it dares to openly explore dark subject matter, and Farren Blackburn’s SHUT IN reminded me of how intriguing it is when psychological issues are explored from a horror point of view. Giving a deep and fascinating portrayal of guilt and insanity, SHUT IN excelled at the exploration of both emotions centered around the experiences of it’s protagonist, Mary, vividly played by Naomi Watts. And for this writer, SHUT IN works so powerfully because how well the film places the audience in the center of Mary’s insanity.

For those not familiar with the film, SHUT IN follows Mary as she tries to work through the self-inflicted blame she feels for her stepson’s car accident. Yet as strange things start happening during the night, Mary begins to fear she’s losing her mind. With the audience forced to experience her anguished confusion during these frightening nighttime occurrences, this writer found herself sharing in Mary’s panic each time it turned dark, apprehensive about what new horror was about to occur. The film truly gets under your skin, as SHUT IN makes it easy for the audience to share in Mary’s outraged incredulity at the chillingly unexplainable events that were stacking up before her.

From a purely horror standpoint, SHUT IN impressed me for the simple fact that it was actually scary. As the film begins to creep into ghost story territory, the film makes it clearer that someone or something is inside the house with Mary and her paralyzed son. Those nighttime sequences, where the audience is forced to search the dark house alongside Mary, are painstakingly intense. SHUT IN was in no way stingy with its frightening imagery, especially while forcing the audience to see exactly what Mary was seeing.

I think the film was also successfully frightening because of how well it created an atmosphere of tension. Set almost entirely in Mary’s secluded house, which sits by itself within thick New England woods, SHUT IN feels uncomfortable from the get-go, and the loneliness of the characters separated from the world really sticks with the audience. The radio and clients’ parents keep reminding us that a blizzard is on the way, building up the anxiety surrounding the fact that Mary will undoubtedly be trapped by the snowstorm in a house under siege by something very sinister.

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Adding to the sense of isolation is the fact that Mary communicates with her own therapist via a Skype-like program rather than in person. The one human who she seems to have a bond with denies us the comfort of being physically present. It just Mary, and her catatonic son who have to endure the horror within the film, and that makes it much easier to put yourself in their shoes. Not only are we trapped within Mary’s house, but we feel trapped within her predicament, as Dr. Wilson, played by Oliver Platt, won’t entertain Mary’s assertions that she’s seeing things at night.

Yet even though Mary may be losing her mind, Blackburn posits Mary as someone not in need of rescuing. While her isolation can feel oppressive at times, there isn’t a moment where Mary doesn’t seem able to handle her own. She’s tormented by the car accident of the past and agitated by the hauntings of the present, but the character certainly has it all together when it comes to courage. When strange noises come from outside of her bedroom at 3:00 a.m., and as this writer desperately want her to stay under the covers, Mary flies around in a feverish search for whatever is intruding her home. It’s a strong female protagonist worthy of praise, and SHUT IN is certainly better off with her front and center once the film veers into the supernatural.

Overall, the film is powerfully nerve-grinding yet addictive and fascinating to watch, as Blackburn and co. play with themes of guilt and insanity.The film triumphs by fully engulfing us in an emotionally violent and chillingly supernatural nightmare, featuring a narrative that progresses with painfully potent tension that eventually explodes, giving way to a twist ending that sharply steers the plot into a wonderfully vile new direction.

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Lexi Harrington
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