Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow
You know those films where you can guess the ending from the trailer? Based on Dennis Lehane's novel, Shutter Island sees Federal Marshall Edward Daniels (DiCaprio) stranded by hurricane in a mental asylum for the criminally insane. He and his partner, Chuck (Ruffalo), are there to find a patient who disappeared from her cell overnight. Can you say "B-Movie horror"? Martin Scorsese can. He just can't say it very well.
It's not that there aren't spooky bits. There are. As Edward advances through the dimly lit corridors, wind battering the windows, a sense of unease soaks through the celluloid, heightened by Leonardo DiCaprio's well-developed scowl. But then, as spiral staircases and stone walls begin to creep inwards, Scorsese cuts to shots of WWII. Out of nowhere, we're looking at Daniels liberating Dachau in 1945, the bodies of dead Jews piling up on the screen. It's unnerving - as any obsessive lingering over concentration camps tends to be - but it's also really annoying.
Still, the Nazi connection is important for Laeta Kalogridis' script, which uses the flashbacks to flesh out Daniels' dark and disturbed past. Against the suspicious I-want-to-help-my-patients Dr Cawley (Kingsley) and the withered I-helped-the-Nazis-chop-people's-brains-up Dr Naehring (von Sydow), Daniels looks positively normal, at once suspecting the sinister Shutter Island of dodgier forms of medical practice. Well supported by the ever-charismatic Mark Ruffalo, the cast are all convincing in their shlock-infested roles.
Things aren't helped, though, by the screeching score, which builds up slowly across almost every scene. Sometimes it works, but the inconsistent narrative jumps have a more jarring effect. It makes sense to set up the massively obvious twist near the end of the film, but there are more elegant and concise ways to do it. Slumming it through a trashy genre, Scorsese's Shutter Island is so steeped in gothic horror cliches that sometimes it steps right off the cliff. It's thanks to DiCaprio's angry, simmering presence that Shutter Island's screenplay stays anchored to its rock. If not, you'd see it drowning it from a mile away.
With striking shots and reverberating visuals, Shutter Island is a perfectly predictable B-movie. It's just a shame it lasts two and a half hours.