Shutter Island (2010)

FEBRUARY 19, 2010


When I first saw a trailer for Shutter Island and realized that it was being marketed as a horror movie, I got really giddy - there was a possibility that I could be interviewing Martin Scorsese when the film came around! Sadly, the press stuff for the film all took place in New York, and I didn't even get to see a screening here. Luckily, the gods rolled their dice in my favor and got me out of work in time to catch the film tonight and still have time to see Shock Treatment at midnight (which, unlike its predecessor, has no horror elements whatsoever so no, I won't be reviewing it. It's a very underrated film though, and the songs kick ass.).

Within twenty minutes, I knew I'd have trouble writing a review of Shutter Island, because the type of things I was noticing was "spoiling" the movie for me, but they are the type of things that casual, non-film school folks might not notice, thus allowing the film's ending to be a total surprise. So let's just say that the movie is great, the actors all deliver some of their best performances (Ben Kingsley in particular is terrific and will hopefully get a Best Supporting nom next year), and as long as you care more about character than complicated plots, the ending shouldn't anger you, as it has for some others. Go see the movie.

But if you have seen the movie, and/or don't care about potential spoilers, then keep reading! I try to talk around the actual twist, but it's impossible to completely avoid it.

Right off the bat I was noticing something strange about the film's editing: it was "terrible" in the conventional sense. Cuts from one angle to another often felt like they were missing a few frames in between, actor continuity was jarringly mismatched (for example, Leo would have his head down in one shot but up and turned to the left in the reverse angle over his shoulder - not a mistake a master like Scorsese would make enough for it to be noticeable), etc. Even the reel changes occurred in odd spots more often than not. And that got me thinking about the movie Stay, which also played loose with "Filmmaking 101 rules" in order to convey the main character's fragmented psyche. So I am curious, will Joe Average notice such things? Will the end come as a complete surprise? And if it does, will he be as angry as some of the people coming out of the theater were last night?

I was not angry. I loved the ending. Some of it is presented a bit cheesily (never a fan of anagrammed names - "Brian Collins is Carlin Lisbon!"), but with one reveal you learn that you haven't been watching a complicated psychological thriller, but a rather sad character study. And really, considering how far the plot was reaching (Nazi experiments, communist spy programs, etc), it's actually sort of a relief - I wasn't really in the mood to watch Leonardo DiCaprio run around beating up brainwashed mental patients and listening to Nazi sympathizers reveal their world domination plans at the end of an atmospheric thriller.

I do wish they had given more for the supporting characters to do. Max Von Sydow and Kingsley appear in the film just the right amount, but Jackie Earl Haley, Ted Levine, Patricia Clarkson, and (sigh) Elias Koteas only have a scene each (didn't I JUST BITCH about Koteas' penchant for popping up for cameo roles in horror/thriller movies?), and their characters are all pretty exciting additions (particularly Levine, who ends his scene by asking Leo if he tried to eat his eyeball, would Leo have time to kill him before he went blind? The hell kind of thing is that to say to somebody? WHo knows, but I wouldn't have minded another moment between the two. Granted, the conclusion makes you realize why they haven't been more central characters, but even a few flashes of each one would have been nice, maybe as a Sixth Sense style trick where you think you see them interacting with other characters (such as the scene where Bruce goes to dinner with his wife, who you think is just ignoring him because she's mad he was late), but they are really only talking to Leo.

I also loved the soundtrack, which is a collection of previously recorded music, supervised by Robby Robertson. Any usage of Max Richter's haunting and beautiful "The Nature of Daylight" is fine by me. The "theme", a Herrmann-esque string arrangement, is also great, though I must admit I do not know what it is from. Though at least I know more than some reviewers; I read a review that praised Robertson's violins (Robertson himself does not contribute one note of music to the film).

And being a "Bah-stahn" boy, I found the accents to be far more tolerable than usual. Some of the minor characters go a little overboard, but Leo and Mark Ruffalo are perfectly fine, and they refrain from tossing in "pissah!" and things of that nature that, in all my years of living there, I predominantly only heard when people were mocking our accents. Fahkin sweet, kid.

I also want to repeat something I said the other day to a friend - who the hell would have guessed that of the four main Dawson's Creek-ers, Michelle Williams would be the one to get Oscar nominations and work with the masters? While all four have done OK in their post DC careers (Pacey on Fringe, Dawson on the slowly growing Mercy, and Joey... well, she's still adorable and doesn't have to worry about money for a while), the slutty Jen Lindley has gone on to be a highly respected (and deservedly so) actress, and her scenes here are among the film's best (they're also the most horror-y). And I like what she's done with her career, largely taking supporting roles in big films and toplining indies, instead of cashing paychecks (I'm sure she gets offered junk like Valentine's Day all the time - she IS an attractive woman in the key 20ish/30ish demographic). Take a note, Katie "Mad Money" Holmes!

The film was based on a book by Dennis Lehane, who I think I should start reading. I wasn't the biggest Mystic River fan (though it's probably the least annoying of Eastwood's late career Oscar Bait output), but Gone Baby Gone was one of the best films of 2007, and now Shutter Island is almost sure to be in my top 10 of this year, and not just for horror movies. And, to be fair, as is the case this week - its horror elements are rather slim, though when they do occur - oh man do they work. Enjoy two of the best jump scares in ages!

What say you?

HorrorBlips: vote it up!


  1. I enjoyed the shit out of this movie. I sensed the twist (most of it, anyway) about thirty minutes in, but it didn't ruin the movie for me at all. It kind of heightened the suspense, because I was always trying to decide which parts, if any, of HIS backstory were true. I also really appreciated the vibrant and sensationally weird dream sequences. I feel like too often in recent horror, the sensational WTF imagery is given less favor than the cold monochromatic (?) style of stuff like "The Collector".

  2. Musically, you're either talking about Gyorgy Ligeti's "Lontano" (a piece which Kubrick also used at least twice in THE SHINING) or Penderecki's "Passacaglia" from Symphony #3.


    They both got used quite often throughout the film, chopped up and used in bits and pieces. It felt like "Lontano" especially got used a rather large amount.

  3. Yup, it was the Passacaglia. THANKS!!!

  4. I just saw this tonight. didn't like it. Those rats on the rocks freaked me out, though.

  5. Shutter Island is a piece of shit & lol at Eastwood's supposed 'Oscar-bait' movies. If that's true he must have been taking lessons from Scorsese given the 'Puh-leeze gimme an Oscar' shit Scorsese's been pumping out over the last deacade. And Mystic River was/is VASTLY superior to this overblown rubbish.

  6. Some great scenes towards the beginning that taper off to an obvious and snooze-worthy ending. There might as well be a sign at the 40-minute mark reading "IGNORE EVERYTHING THAT'S HAPPENING BECAUSE IT'S NOT REAL!"

    Not a good movie, and a particular disappointment by Scorsese.

  7. I loved the movie, but it wasn't a horror at all. That was good news for my roommate (who watched The Descent through her fingers) but I was disappointed (and should have gone to see my man Tim in The Crazies...damn). I got one jump scare, but where was the second one?

  8. this movie is 100x better than the book.

  9. I just went to see this movie.

    I think I liked all of the movie. Laffs aside at parts. However the end averaged me out to feeling the movie was "OK".

  10. one jump scare was that drive up scene to the gates...what the hell was going on with the music.. i needed a xanax after that part.

    its like..a time bomb count down crazy orchestrated song, louder and louder just to pull into a garage and get out of the car. HAHAHAH.

  11. Waste of 2 hours. Went in really wanting to like and almost hoping from the start that it wasn't he's a patient and mad twist... But oh bugger, it is and he was. Dull.

  12. I just saw this today on VOD. I liked it very much; thought it was great. Ben Kingsley was indeed outstanding. Not a horror film, though.

  13. I'm late. Just saw it last night. Another well crafted and acted film from Marty. I enjoyed every minute of it. I will say that it was so obvious that the Marshal was insanne that I thought the big twist at the end would be a double twist where you discover that he was in fact sane. So, the surprise was that there was no surprise. I guess I expected something like The Sixth Sense. Instead, I was pretty happy with how it played out. If you're not looking for a disorienting twist, this film is perfect.

  14. This is one I get into arguments about. I'd read the book, so I walked in knowing that he was crazy, so the twist was basically of no consequence. I just didn't feel like it was fair to the movie as a whole to dismiss it because you knew he was crazy. I knew Christian Bale was crazy in The Machinist but that didn't sap one ounce of power out of that movie. I loved the mood, the atmosphere of Shutter Island. It was Val Lewton or Shock Corridor turned up to 100. Scorsese was having a blast just reveling in pure genre. It was fun trying to remember what was real and what wasn't too. I may have known the ending, but it had been long enough that the little details escaped me. For example, I totally forgot if Mark Ruffolo's character was real or not. It totally enhanced the paranoia, and man does DiCaprio give it everything he's got when he has to face what actually happened. What a great actor.

  15. I just finished the book and loved it. I can't wait to see what the director, Leo and Mark Ruffalo do with the story and their characters.


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