Shutter Island Review

by Ed Lau on March 19, 2010

As far as places to visit, I would think that an insane asylum would be rather low on anyone’s list. I mean, if you had to choose between Las Vegas, Hawaii or Shutter Island, I doubt anyone would select the latter. I mean, I’m uncomfortable even watching a movie about this place let alone going anywhere near one so I thought Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo were morons to head to the title location for something as small as a missing patient among the crazies. But that’s how Shutter Island makes you feel from the get go. The look of the film, the creepy music, the way everything just appears a little bit…off, it’s all part of Martin Scorsese’s plan to make you feel all the more uncomfortable with the movie. Shutter Island is a sort of weird film noir where even if you see it in front of you, you can’t really be sure what is going on.

To be honest, I didn’t really have high expectations for Shutter Island. Some of my friends were going on about how they wanted to watch it after seeing the trailer but I was more in the “Meh.” camp. I mean, if you’ve seen the trailer, I’m sure you’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s happening and what is going to happen. You’re not wrong. A lot of what you’re expecting is part of the movie but at the same time, it messes with your brain, making you wonder if you’re not going a little mad yourself after the twists and turns.

DiCaprio plays Teddy Daniels, a U.S. marshal sent to Shutter Island, a prison for nutjobs who are too dangerous for regular asylums and too crazy for regular prisons, after the disappearance of Rachel Solando, a patient who drowned her three children. If that isn’t creepy enough for you, we’re greeted early on by Teddy’s ongoing flashbacks, mostly of his role in WWII as part of the force that liberated the Dachau concentration camp. We also meet his wife (Michelle Williams), who died after the building where she and Teddy lived was set aflame by an arsonist. To say any more about Teddy, I’m afraid, would be giving too much away.

As I mentioned before, the movie just oozes atmosphere. It’s not like a horror movie where everything’s dark. In fact, most scene’s are well lit but the light seems to shy away from the camera. It caresses the ground through windows, spills from unseen sources over rusted staircases and even the sunlight drips through thick clouds, making settings unsaturated like a old photograph. Only once did I think that the cinematography could’ve been better. There’s a scene where Teddy speaks to an inmate in his cell block, lit only using matches but for us, the scene is perfectly visible. If the match lighting was the only thing actually lighting the scene (and yes, I understand why that probably isn’t a good idea for filming), I probably would’ve wet may pants.

The strange thing is…the movie isn’t scary. Not in the way that a scary movie is. It is much more about messing with your head, making you see things you’re not sure you really saw and hear things you aren’t sure you actually heard. DiCaprio does an excellent job on his part although initially I wouldn’t know this movie was set in 1954 other than the fact that his pants are so far up his chest. The rest of the cast is very good as well and the inmates are particularly well cast (and made up) as they look the part. The principle actors apart from DiCaprio are good but not quite noticeable in their roles. Nothing that stands out. They whisper when they should. They scream unexpectedly.

Overall, Shutter Island is a good movie. It could’ve been a great one, though with a very good script, a fantastic cast and the direction of Martin Scorsese draping the entire movie in atmosphere. My complaint is that the movie never begins at any point of normalcy. There’s no downward spiral. Five minutes in and the movie is already messed up. I only moves from one type of messed up to a slightly different variety of messed up. I guess one can’t expect anything else from a movie set in an insane asylum but I feel it would’ve benefited from a slightly different pacing. That and the trailer, since that takes a lot of the suspense regarding the plot out of the equation. Again, a good movie but it could’ve been been better…and there might be better ones to watch in theaters now or soon. This is a rental so enjoy it on your couch rather than for $20 at the theater.

Verdict: 7.0 out of 10

in Entertainment

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