“All I know is it’s a mental hospital”: ‘Shutter Island’ Review

Posted in Screening Room by - November 30, 2017
“All I know is it’s a mental hospital”: ‘Shutter Island’ Review

Horror is not a word that one would associate with director Martin Scorsese but whenever he tackles it, the results are spectacular. Scorsese first delved into horror with his spellbinding remake of Cape Fear which got Robert De Niro an Oscar nomination. With Shutter Island Scorsese flexes his horror muscles and delivers one of his most underrated films in his entire filmography. Based on the novel by celebrated author Dennis Lehane (Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River), Scorsese has a lot of fun incorporating many genres into its spooky and terrifically atmospheric horror thriller.

The story is pure pulp; a detective (Leonardo DiCaprio in one of his finest hours) and his partner (Mark Ruffalo, equally great) are sent into a mental hospital for the criminally insane at a remote island to investigate the disappearance of a patient. Shutter Island is the type of film that benefits from knowing as little as possible about its intricate plot but let’s just say that when Teddy and Chuck, our two detectives, arrive at the island all is not what it seems and it leads them down a rabbit hole of mystery and madness.

Scorsese, an acknowledged fan of the works of famed producer Val Lewton, treats Shutter Island with the same atmospheric tension as the one you might find in something like the original Cat People. While its mainly a horror film Scorsese also injects elements of classic hard-boiled noir, haunted house and more; there’s even a fascinating debate about the psychological experiments that were being done to people at the time by medical institutions. While DiCaprio and Ruffalo are terrific in the lead roles, the supporting cast is absolutely fantastic including amazing turns by Michelle Williams, Ben Kingsley, Emily Mortimer and Max Von Sydow. This cast is a welcome reminder of how great Scorsese is with a big ensemble cast and letting them make bold and exciting choices that enhance the overall film experience. There are so many surprises that pay off so incredibly well in Shutter Island that they often distract from the incredible filmmaking that is on display in every single frame of this film. Scorsese injects the film, with the help of cinematographer Robert Richardson, with a breathtaking sense of pure cinema and lets the beautiful atmosphere take control during each unforgettable moment; there’s a tracking shot here that recalls that glorious Goodfellas shot but with a more haunting and horrifying twist behind it.

Even the source music that Scorsese uses for Shutter Island gives the film a sense of operatic grandeur and unbearable tension that echoes Stanley Kubrick’s work in The Shining. The combination of horror and film noir works absolutely perfect for Shutter Island as it allows Scorsese to rely a little bit more on visuals to tell this story and let those images drive the narrative forward. It might be considered lesser Scorsese, but Shutter Island is a smart and gripping noir mystery with shades of greatness that often asks fascinating questions about the human soul. It’s anchored by an extraordinary lead performance by DiCaprio and striking direction by Scorsese that is filled with a marvelous sense of pure atmosphere and a gleefully unrestrained sense of dread.

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He is an avid movie fan and loves to write about movies perhaps a little too much. He also considers Casino Royale to be the best James Bond film ever made and he's ready to defend at any moment.
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