'Shut In': Film Review

This hokey horror film should have stayed cooped up.

Naomi Watts plays a child psychologist tormented by nightmarish visions in Farren Blackburn's horror thriller.

Naomi Watts deserves much better than her starring role in the unsavory thriller that snuck into theaters Friday without advance press screenings. Featuring Jacob Tremblay (Room) playing yet another emotionally troubled child, the lurid and unconvincing Shut In should have lived up to its title.

Watts plays the central role of Mary Portman, a child psychologist living in a large, rural New England house with her teenage stepson Stephen (Charlie Heaton), who's been in a catatonic state for six months after being involved in a car accident that killed his father. Feeding and bathing the motionless young man, Mary lives a solitary life, at first resisting the romantic overtures of a patient's father (David Cubitt). Increasingly determined to move on, she makes plans to transfer Stephen to a care facility. 

Then, another young patient, Tom (Tremblay), unexpectedly shows up at her door one cold winter night. Before she can return him to his caretaker the next morning, the young boy disappears. The resulting search by the authorities turns up nothing, and he's soon considered probably dead.  

Meanwhile, continual nightmares and troubling visions lead Mary to believe that the house may be haunted. Her own shrink (Oliver Platt), with whom she communicates via Skype, assures her that she's probably merely suffering from "parasomnia" and offers to prescribe an anti-depressant. But anyone familiar with horror thrillers knows that things don't go bump in the night because of a mere sleep disorder.

Director Farren Blackburn piles on the cheap jump scares, like a raccoon suddenly appearing amid a jarring burst of noise that threatens to blow out the theater speakers. But the filmmaker is unable to overcome the inadequacies of Christina Hodson's script, whose surprise revelation we spot from a mile away. Considering the action is largely set in a single setting and that the stage is generally more forgiving of artificial contrivances, the piece might have worked better as a play.

Engaging and appealing as always, Watts does the best she can, but there's little she — or any actress — could do with lines like "Put the ax down, and we can talk about this." The supporting players go through their predictable paces with professionalism, with Tremblay displaying the same haunted, vulnerable presence that he did in his previous, Oscar-nominated role. But after Room and now this, someone needs to cast this talented child performer in a lighthearted comedy — and fast.

Distributor: EuropaCorp
Production companies: Transfilm, Canal+, Cine+, EuropaCorp, Lava Bear Films, Transfilm International
Cast: Naomi Watts, Oliver Platt, Charlie Heaton, Jacob Tremblay, David Cubitt, Clementine Poidatz
Director: Farren Blackburn
Screenwriter: Christina Hodson
Producers: Ariel Zeitoun, Claude Leger, Christine Haebler
Executive producers: Tory Metzger, David Linde, Lisa Ellzey, Jonathan Vanger, Romuald Drault, Trish Dolman
Director of photography: Yves Belanger
Production designer: Paul Denham Austerberry
Editors: Baxter, Maryline Monthieux
Costume designer: Odette Gadoury
Composer: Nathaniel Mechaly
Casting: Andrea Kenyon, Randi Wels, Lucinda Syson, Kate Ringswell

Rated PG-13, 91 minutes