Movie Review: Shutter Island
The horror film has been made into a joke, a parody of itself. The genre has been tarnished in recent years, cluttered by an influx of mindless remakes and shock-reliant torture flicks. The days of Hitchcock, Kubrick and Carpenter bringing beauty and style to their terror are long gone. Leave it to a 67-year-old Oscar winner, with limited experience in the genre, to bring horror back to prominence.
Yes, Martin Scorsese has dabbled in the shock-feature in the past, most notably in his remake of Cape Fear, but Shutter Island sits well outside the master’s comfort zone. And that’s exactly where he wants his audience to be.
The film’s ominous score and daunting gray oceanic skies set a tone from the film’s opening seconds. Leonardo DiCaprio is seasick. Vomiting. He and Mark Ruffalo have been summoned to Shutter Island to investigate the mysterious disappearance of one of the mental institute’s patients, a criminally insane woman who drowned her three children.
“It’s as if she evaporated, straight through the walls,” explains Ben Kingsley. He is as charming as ever as the asylum’s head psychiatrist.
DiCaprio is suspicious that something fishy is going on at Shutter Island, which is something of a combination between Alcatraz, Auschwitz and Area 51. We soon find out that he is right, but the extent of this discovery can’t be explained without spoiling much of the movie.
DiCaprio’s thoughts are a lethal concoction of haunting war memories and visions of his late wife (Michelle Williams). These thoughts, combined with the extenuating circumstances of the island’s dreadful weather and psychotic inhabitants, create a perfect storm of torment for the federal marshall. He’s as exhilarating as we’ve ever seen him here, evoking an emotional range only hinted at in some of the later scenes of The Aviator.
Each close-up has DiCaprio exuding a new level of anguish as Scorsese captures the effects of the island wearing him down, grating away at his psyche. It’s safe to say that Scorsese has seen his fair share of Hitchcock films. His influence is most apparent as DiCaprio dangles from the rocky cliffs at the edge of the island. The angles at which he captures the action bring to mind some of those great sequences in Vertigo and North by Northwest.
Hitchcock liked to get all the mystery out of the way as soon as possible. The audience often knew more about what was going on than the film’s protagonist, turning the movie purely into a vehicle of suspense. What Scorsese does with Shutter Island is quite different, but it’s better off that way.
Shutter Island is an incredibly gripping example of psychological horror, following in the footsteps of Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone as the third consecutive great film adapted from a Dennis Lehane novel. It grabs you from the start and refuses to let go, never allowing you to feel at ease throughout its 138 minute runtime. I’m still not sure if I feel completely comfortable.
RIYL: The Shining, 1408, Vertigo.