Farren Blackburn has a genre history as long as your arm – he’s directed episodes of Daredevil, Doctor Who, The Fades and Survivors and his debut feature was the underrated Norse actioner Hammer of the Gods – but here he’s been saddled with the first produced screenplay from future Transformers scriptwriter Christina Hodson, and it’s not exactly a meeting of minds. Indeed, if the closest anagram for your title is "Shit Un", you'd better make very sure nobody watching your film ever feels the need to invoke it. Sadly that isn't the case here.
The script itself seems to be aiming for a kind of Hitchcock-esque melodrama by way of Kubrick’s The Shining – Oliver Platt even turns up as Scatman Crothers just to nail the point home – but the film’s first half is so underwritten it demands Blackburn find too low key a level to escape from once the mid-point revelation turns everything on its head. The second half is scuppered by the lack of any momentum in the first.
Naomi Watts (looking more like Helen Mirren every day) plays Nicole Kidman as a widowed psychologist, who balances receiving patients in the room above her garage with looking after her auto-non-functioning tetraplegic stepson, who managed to avoid serious injury despite having almost died in the accident that claimed her husband. After a deaf nine-year-old client that she’d like to adopt goes missing on the isolated property, Watts begins hearing strange noises in the woodwork at night, and despite being a highly-qualified doctor suspects the boy has died and his ghost has returned to haunt her. And that’s when the ice storm hits, cutting Watts off from civilisation (or the local police at least; Platt still manages to arrive quickly and easily enough) just as the truth about the two boys in her life comes climbing out of the cellar.
Shut In – with its three meanings, describing in one way or another each of the three principal characters – isn’t anything like as exciting as that brief precis might have made it appear. Hemmed in by its appropriation of genre clichés but unwillingness to play their games, and soundtracked to resemble a more staple horror than the psychological thriller it is instead attempting to be, Hodson’s screenplay dispenses with both ambiguity and character depth, leaving a black hole where either audience empathy or plausibility might reside. Instead, the first fifty minutes goes very slowly and terribly clumsily through the motions of setting up the last thirty, by which point it’s become entirely impossible to give the first fig about any one of the people on the screen – and the explanation provided for the central plot twist is possibly the most risible piece of dialogue written this century.
The performances are mostly unconvincing, and the visuals – while pretty enough – are just as dull as the writing, leaving the film just as much of an auto-non-functioning tetraplegic as Watts’ stepson.
SHUT IN / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: FARREN BLACKBURN / SCREENPLAY: CHRISTINA HODSON / STARRING: NAOMI WATTS, OLIVER PLATT, CHARLIE HEATON, JACOB TREMBLAY, DAVID CUBITT, CLÉMENTINE POIDATZ / RELEASE DATE: 10TH APRIL