Billy Soistmann

Review: Shutter Island

In 2010, Horror, Martin Scorsese, Mystery, Paramount, Reviews, Thrillers & Mystery/Suspense on February 19, 2010 at 11:53 AM

Sometimes, it’s not what you’re saying, but how you’re saying it and that is definitely the case in Shutter Island. Martin Scorsese delivers an incredible film from good, but flawed source material.

Shutter Island stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Teddy, a US Marshal who, along with his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), are assigned to investigate the disappearance of a psychotic patient from the mental institution on the titular island. Dr. John Cowley (Ben Kingsley), along with Dr. Jeremiah Naering (Max von Sydow) and the warden (Ted Levine), run the facility with an iron fist. The fantastic supporting cast is rounded off with Jackie Earle Haley and Michelle Williams. As the mystery unfolds, Teddy learns that the island is definitely more intimidating than he first suspected.

From the opening shot of this film, you know you are in for something special. The opening sequence is clearly the work of a master filmmaker. Scorsese lets his shots run their course, rather than cutting away. We watch as the boat slowly emerges from the fog heading toward the island. After some dialog, we see the island for the first time in a shot that says a lot about the character of this wretched place – the jagged rocks, the rocking boat, the imposing cliffs. As the on-edge police force escorts the marshals into the institution, Scorsese utilizes his signature sweeping camera moves which give the film a constant kinetic energy.

Shutter Island is visually stunning. The composition is absolutely perfect. The movie is also partly surrealist. The dream sequences play out through unique visuals and give a glimpse into DiCaprio’s mental collapse. Overall, the pacing and editing make for an incredible thriller. Scorsese channels his inner Hitchcock and continually builds suspense. Rather than rely on simple jump scares, this film is psychological. The score also contributes immensely to the overall feeling of the movie. Incredibly, a score wasn’t even written for the movie. Instead, Scorsese and singer-songwriter Robbie Robertson created an ensemble of already-recorded music. The haunting music and, even more so, the lack of sound during certain scenes also adds to the unnerving atmosphere.

The plot of the film plays like a classic thriller. The movie uses several horror clichés, such as the telephone lines being knocked out by a storm, but I didn’t mind them. As for the sotry, it started out well, but then fell short a little around 2/3rds of the way through. Towards the end, I did not like the direction the story was going, but the ending was amazingly ambiguous. (I’ll definitely have to write more in-depth about this in a later, spoiler-filled post.) In the end, the craftsmanship of the film outweighs any shortcomings in the script.

Apart from the technical aspects, which were virtually perfect, Shutter Island provides several levels of enjoyment. There is suspense throughout – the film is an excellent thriller. On a deeper level, the movie examines the nature of human sanity. Overall, Shutter Island is an engrossing thriller told through excellent visuals that only Scorsese can create. The fantastic directing, acting, and technical aspects of the movie take a typical horror film and make it into a thought-provoking, beautiful film.

  1. […] 2/19 – Shutter Island: I saw this at midnight and I’m certainly glad I did. What an amazing film. (And it my first Scorsese picture on the big screen.) I loved this movie, see my full review. […]

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