US Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) are sent to Ashecliff Hospital to investigate the disappearance of a patient. The hospital is a unique institution, the only one of its kind in the world. It houses the most severe of the criminally insane and is located on an island twelve miles from the nearest shore.
I was expecting a lot from this movie. Many of the reviews I’ve read have hailed it as a true horror movie, but after seeing the film I’m not so sure about that assessment. While there were some suspenseful scenes, I think I only jumped one time, and that was just because the speakers were way too loud.
Perhaps the problem with tagging Shutter Island as a horror movie is that there is no accepted definition for “horror.” What may terrify one person might make another laugh. There are things in the movie that are creepy, macabre, strange, even ghostly, all the elements of a classic horror motif, but I failed to have any real fear.
That’s not to say that the movie is bad. No, in fact, I enjoyed the movie, with reservations. The meat of the story (though somewhat predictable… I had one character pegged from the moment I first saw him) centers on guilt. Teddy served during WWII and helped liberate a death camp and he has severe post-war trauma. His wife died while he was at work and he feels responsible for that. Teddy is a walking bag of mixed emotions, trying to come to grips with life and accept it. This, truly, is the main story, but even it was not altogether engrossing.
The best thing about Shutter Island was the island itself. The set design was beautiful. The film takes place in 1954, and Scorsese’s directorial eye captured this time period gracefully. The Ashecliff hospital’s grounds are beautiful and well manicured. The buildings are old but attractive. The costumes are perfect. Then there’s the darker side of the island. The prison side. Ward C, an old Civil War-era building that’s home to the most violent of the patients, was definitely the creepiest part of the film. The lighthouse and its mystery. The caves.
Indeed, watching the film was enjoyable. I think I went in expecting something grand, and my sights were set to high. I felt the conclusion was underwhelming, and I was certainly prepared for it. The film was slow at times, especially Teddy’s flashbacks to the War, but there was just enough intrigue to keep me watching.
Overall, I enjoyed Shutter Island, but at the same time I was a little disappointed. The acting was superb. The set was beautiful. The sounds were pleasant. The plot, however, the main crux of any movie, dropped the ball. I can recommend seeing the movie, but waiting for a matinee or the DVD release wouldn’t be a bad idea.