Film Review: ‘Shut In’

Joe Leydon
Variety

As thrillers go, “Shut In” is conspicuously short of thrills. It’s an undistinguished and predictable hodgepodge, so blandly generic as to suggest that it was cobbled together by filmmakers referencing a how-to handbook who picked spare parts from other, better thrillers . Director Farren Blackburn and scripter Christina Hodson are billed as the responsible parties. But, given the prominent acknowledgement of a reshoot crew in the closing credits, it’s quite possible other cooks also were involved in the preparation of these slightly warmed leftovers.

Naomi Watts stars as Mary Portman, a child psychologist who conducts therapy sessions on the grounds of her isolated Maine home. She never wants to be too far from her 18-year-old stepson, Stephen (Charlie Heaton of Netflix’s “Stranger Things”), who was left paralyzed after an auto mishap that killed his father. But she’s obviously devoted to her work, and especially attentive to difficult patients such as Tom (Jacob Tremblay of “Room”), a deaf youngster whose disappearance serves as what scriptwriting gurus refer to as an inciting incident.

Tom runs away from foster care and briefly turns up at Mary’s home before vanishing without a trace, triggering virtually nonstop news reports about a statewide search for the boy. Indeed, it seems like the local media are covering only one other story: forecasts for an upcoming ice storm that likely will cause power outages for folks in rural areas.

That is what the scriptwriting gurus refer to as foreshadowing.

Mary already is stressed-out and sleep-deprived when she starts to hear strange sounds echoing through her house late at night. Add a few “Ha! It’s only a dream!” fake-out scares to the mix, and pretty soon she starts to believe that something supernatural is going on. But when the ice storm cometh, a threat more corporeal than paranormal emerges, the nods to Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” accumulate — and, yes, the lights go out.

To give Watts fair credit, she is frequently compelling and altogether credible as Mary. Oliver Platt is aptly intense as Mary’s deeply concerned psychiatrist, even though most of his performance is quite literally phoned in (or, to be more precise, Skyped in). It’s difficult to say much about other members of the cast — including David Cubitt as the father of one of Mary’s patients — without running the risk of spilling beans. And that’s not really fair, even when appraising leftovers.

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