By day, Mary Portman is strong. A widow who lives with her teenage stepson, Steven, in a permanent vegetative state since the accident which claimed the life of his father, she takes care of him and her obligations as a clinical psychologist specialising in the treatment of troubled children, much as Steven was himself before the accident. She is calm, she is professional, and she is coping with her loss and her workload.
By night, Mary is a different person. She is nervous, hearing noises in the house, unable to sleep, suffering from nightmares when she does, recurring sights of her former patient Tom, a young deaf boy in the foster care system who was transferred out of state and went missing, whom she is convinced tried to make his way back to her.
Her own physician has diagnosed her with parasomnia, night terrors, relating the disappearance of Tom to the effective loss of the young boy she once thought of as her own but Doctor Wilson firmly tells Mary he does not believe that she is being haunted, that Tom may not even be dead. Yet as the winter settles in over the isolated house with warnings that they may be cut off, Mary shut in the house, Steven shut into his body, it is harder to deny that there is something else out there.
Like CCH Pounder, Angela Bassett and Tilda Swinton, Naomi Watts is incapable of giving a bad performance. While her most exceptional performance may have been one of her earliest leads, in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, soon to be re-released in the run up to the new season of Twin Peaks in which Watts will also appear in some capacity, as with many performers all too often the material she is offered is inadequate.
Directed by Farren Blackburn whose resume includes The Rings of Akhaten, one of the worst episodes of modern Doctor Who, Shut In is the first produced script by Christina Hodson though her second, the thriller Unforgettable, is due for release in April, and Blackburn has struggled to generate atmosphere or tension from the concept which possibly seemed a better idea on paper but is frustratingly underdeveloped.
With Stranger Things‘ Charlie Heaton as Steven, Room‘s Jacob Tremblay as Tom, X-Men: First Class‘ Oliver Platt as Doctor Wilson and Medium‘s David Cubitt as Doug, the handsome and inappropriately flirtatious father of one of Mary’s patients, all perform well in what is asked of them but there is no opportunity for them to break out in what is a middle-of-the-road thriller which lacks intensity or ambiguity.
Where the viewer should be as disoriented as Mary in order that the twist on which the narrative depends comes as a shock instead it is somewhat obvious and unconvincing, vastly insufficient to keep the film together and instead falling into an amateur final act of Mary hiding in the shadows around the fortunately large house hoping to avoid discovery by her assailant.
Although Hodson has done well in making Mary immediately resourceful when placed in danger, where The Babadook wrote the book on sleep deprivation and We Need to Talk About Kevin was the book on tortured parental responsibility there is very little worth staying home for about Shut In; crucially, had Steven been Mary’s own child rather than her stepson it would have demanded a moral examination which is instead entirely absent.
Shut In is available on DVD from Arrow on Monday 10th April