Slow-cooked chiller frigid and predictable

Naomi Watts is a child psychologist and Jacob Tremblay (both above) her patient in Shut In.
Naomi Watts is a child psychologist and Jacob Tremblay (both above) her patient in Shut In.PHOTO: CATHAY- KERIS FILMS

REVIEW / HORROR

SHUT IN (NC16)

91 minutes/Opens tomorrow/2.5/5 stars

The story: A car accident kills the husband of child psychologist Mary Portman (Naomi Watts) and leaves her teenage stepson Stephen (Charlie Heaton) paralysed. She isolates herself in her house in snow-covered New England to look after Stephen. When one of Mary's patients, a boy named Tom (Jacob Tremblay), goes missing before a snowstorm hits, she becomes convinced that his ghost is haunting her and her bedridden stepson.

This is a chiller made frigid in the true sense of "dark stormy night" as a snowstorm hovers over it like a confining blanket.

Is it a ghost, spirit, creature or the demonic kid from The Omen that is lurking inside the big, underlit house sitting in severe seclusion in the sprawling snow?

Mary keeps hearing strange sounds - footsteps, voices - and occasionally glimpses the silhouette of Tom in the ghostly dimness.

"You're a rational adult, there's no such thing as ghosts," Portman is reminded.

Alas, when you eventually do know the cause of her fears, Shut In loses its supernatural grip on you and becomes predictable.

The basement looks typically forbidding and the garage, located separately for added tension, requires the poor woman to tread into the dark outside with trepidation.

A bathtub becomes particularly significant, a la What Lies Beneath (2000), when Watts' naked body is exposed. And there is the usual horror-genre trick of sudden but unreal nightmare sequences that are essentially red herrings to make viewers jump on cue.

British director Farren Blackburn (TV's Daredevil) is most effective when he takes his sweet time slow-cooking the mystery in a minimalist form (he seems reluctant to truly scare) and less so when he eventually turns it into a hurried, improbable version of The Shining.

There is a sense of dread and vulnerability about the motherly damsel in distress, as Watts replicates her chiller experience from The Ring horror flicks.

Mary stays dutifully rooted at one spot to monitor and look after the health of acutely impaired 18-year- old Stephen (Heaton from Stranger Things) to the point of mental exhaustion. The stricken youth, previously wayward and destructive, is immobilised, a silent living statue completely dependent on his stepmother whom he looks at with unfeeling coldness.

You wonder about Mary's unshakeable devotion because the dude is such a bratty, unlikeable character.

Probably only mothers wallowing in frozen, guilt-laced discomfort would understand this situation and only horror fans would sense what is coming.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2016, with the headline 'Slow-cooked chiller frigid and predictable'. Print Edition | Subscribe