Shut In

Shut In

2016, PG-13, 91 min. Directed by Farren Blackburn. Starring Naomi Watts, Charlie Heaton, Jacob Tremblay, Oliver Platt.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 18, 2016

Speaking as someone who has wrestled with the demon insomnia for years, I can fully attest to the nightmarish half-life brought on by sleep deprivation. So it should cheer the hearts of the countless others whom the sandman regularly flips the bird to that Shut In, an alleged “psychological thriller,” is neither. It is, instead, a restful snooze of a movie, more efficacious than Lunesta and featuring far fewer side effects than Ambien. How the screenplay for Shut In – by first-timer Christina Hodson – made 2012’s Black List of best unproduced scripts is a greater mystery than anything transpiring in director Farren Blackburn’s finished film.

Another enigma is how Oscar-nominated arthouse darling Naomi Watts ended up in such a drearily soporific hack job in the first place. My guess is that although she’s one of the greatest actors of our time, she’s also over 40, and because: Hollywood. Watts certainly does her best to bring some spark to her character, but it’s all for naught in a film that’s saddled with an overabundance of cheap shock cuts and riddled with “old dark house” cliches that were already approaching the antediluvian when James Whale’s The Old Dark House arrived in 1932.

Watts is Mary Portman, a child psychologist who plies her trade out of a creaky manse in rural, snowswept Maine. A widow who lost her husband in a freak car accident, she’s also a dutiful mother, caring for her surviving stepson, 18-year-old Stephen (Stranger Things’ Heaton), who was left paralyzed and cognitively vegetative in the crash. After one of her patients, a deaf boy named Tom (Room’s Tremblay), unexpectedly shows up on her doorstep and then just as mysteriously vanishes into the teeth of an oncoming blizzard, Mary’s mental state, already piano-wire taut, begins to fray even more. Is it merely grief coupled to the lack of a good night’s sleep that’s causing her to see ghostly kid-things and hear strange noises in the night? Or are there, indeed, phantoms afoot? Her Skype-happy psychiatrist (Platt) says it’s the former, but Hodson’s gruelingly generic plotting, which telegraphs a third-act plot twist so gawpingly unsurprising that it might as well have been culled from M. Night Shyamalan’s bottom drawer, says otherwise. Regardless, the upside is that Shut In is cinematic Sominex for those in need of a 90-minute nap, a thousand yawns, and zero thrills.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Naomi Watts Films
High school drama becomes an indictment of “either/or” culture

Richard Whittaker, Aug. 16, 2019

The Glass Castle
Jeanette Walls' beloved memoir hits the big screen

Kimberley Jones, Aug. 11, 2017

More by Marc Savlov
Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation
The titans of literature and their complex bond

June 18, 2021

The moldering earth has had enough with humanity in this South African ecohorror

June 18, 2021


Shut In, Farren Blackburn, Naomi Watts, Charlie Heaton, Jacob Tremblay, Oliver Platt

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle