Thursday, February 11, 2010

Film Review: Shutter Island




I was hoping to get a review in for The Wolfman at least a week before it opened, but I hadn't been given the special access to these kind of films so far in advance that I have now, yet. So I will see it, but probably not review.

So I will begin my series of reviews of horror films well before anyone else chimes in about them with Shutter Island*:

I don't know if there has been a horror movie that has come along that has had the possibility of being another Silence of the Lamb's as much as Shutter Island. This means that it is the perfect storm of being a solid thriller/ scary movie effective in all those way, while also being a solid film with strong characters, story, drama, beautiful direction and good acting. Another words - a horror movie with gravitas that people treat with dignity rather than scorn. Horror movies in general are relegated to "genre film" and thus not taken seriously as a real movie. Auteurs of said genre for years have been crying about that all the way to the bank. But as witnessed with Silence of the Lambs, when you can be all things to all people, it can be sublime.

So those were some pretty big shoes to fill when I took in a special sneak preview set up just for me earlier this week. But the pedigree was there. Oscar nominated actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) Oscar award-winning director (Martin Scorsese), very respectable supporting cast (Mark Ruffalo, Ben, I won't call him Sir, Kingsley, and Max Von Sydow, et al) and based on a highly acclaimed novel, well...sounded like Oscar bait to me. And it does not disappoint!

This movie had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. It is set in 1954 at the moody Shutter Island Ashcliffe Hospital off of Boston. Dark, dreary and spooky the location offers loads of fun opportunities for cinematographer Robert Richardson and he makes the most of it. Straight out of a Scooby-Doo episode, this real-life Arkam smacks of doom the minute you lay eyes on it. DiCaprio plays Teddy Daniels, a U.S Marshal who fought in World War II and has been haunted by an incident where he had the chance to save a baby from an explosion but didn't out of fear that the baby was German. He brings this heavy baggage with him as he goes to the island to investigate the sudden disappearances of a number of inmates, all magicians. But the hospital administration is strangely unhelpful to the point of standing in the way. Things get weirder when all the power goes out due to an electrical storm. Teddy begins to see and feel things that make him question reality and his own sanity, culminating in a unusual (for Martin Scorsese anyway) orgy scene where you actually see Leaonardo DiCaprio fully nude. Those photos will be circulating the Internet soon enough, I am sure.

DiCaprio has gone on the record as saying this was the most demanding role he has ever played in his life, and I can see why. Aside from having to double as Teddy's dead sister that he begins to hallucinate about (and then have sex with in the aforementioned orgy scene), the martial arts fight sequences are beautifully crafted and Leo looks fantastic doing them. The wire work notwithstanding, Leonardo looks like a grade A black belt and you believe every punch, kick, roundhouse and flying elbow to the head. And under the able hands of a master such as Martin Scorsese, the fight sequences are breathtaking, not unlike how another brilliant director tackled martial art battles - Ang Lee. And for the record, Ben Kingsley is no slouch either in the same regal manner that Chow-Yun Fat approached Master Li in CTHD.

That said, this isn't about the fights or the sex. it is about the fear, and i must have jumped a thousand times and kept uneasy the rest. Unsettling like The Shining, simple yet grotesque like Audition, and compelling and thrilling like Silence of the Lambs, this was one of the best scary movies I have ever seen and I am sure it will be part of the conversation come Oscar time. This movie is brilliantly terrifying. And don't try and guess the surprise ending, it is earned and smart and will make you think the entire night. I know it did for me and my friends.


* As far as press time I had yet to see this film

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