The setting of this film is grim, and can be deeply depressing. It’s a dark film with horror and insanity at every turn. If that’s not your thing, better skip this movie.
However, the horror isn't of the slasher flick variety (you know, the other slasher genre. ;) There is blood and some disturbing imagery, but take it from someone who hates horror movies: this was GOOD.
Martin Scorsese has scored with this movie. Some people have complained that it was easy to guess what was going on right away, yadda, yadda, yadda. So what? This premise was very difficult to pull off at all, never mind keep people completely in the dark the whole way through.
What counts in this film is the atmosphere, the storytelling, the period detail.
First, let me say, it was mesmerizing. It kept me and the people I was with on the edge of our seats (my sister BunnyGirl, my cousin, and my brother-in-law). The story opens with U.S. Federal Marshal Teddy Daniels and his new partner Chuck Aule heading to Shutter Island, a mental institution for the criminally insane located in the middle of the Boston Harbor Islands. The action appears to take place during autumn and hurricane season in the year 1954. A female patient has escaped, and the Federal Marshals have been called in.
So we get a man who is sick to begin with (seasickness on the ferry) and haunted by his service in World War II, including his part in the liberation of Dachau. The staff seems more amused than anything by the interrogation that the marshals put them through about Rachel Solanda, the escaped patient, who vanished from a locked room with bars on the window. The vibe is definitely a strange one in this scene, explained later in the film.
World War II isn’t the only trauma that Teddy’s suffered (admirably played by Leonardo DiCaprio). His wife Dolores was killed in a fire in their apartment building, which was set by Andrew Laeddis, an ugly, disfigured firebug. Teddy has his own agenda in coming to Shutter Island, and tells Chuck that there’s also suspicion on experiments being performed on patients because of the Cold War, possibly assisted by former Nazis from death camps like Dachau.
The look of this film is amazing. The 1954 details are outstanding: the clothes (Special note: Mark Ruffalo, who plays Chuck Aule, wears a very 1950s suit in the final scene, which could have been right out of a Bogart movie, and his pomaded hair is done just right), the fedoras, the design of the policemen’s uniforms. People actually smoke cigarettes in this film like a major portion of the population did in 1954! World War II was a major influence, and the Korean War was mentioned. The Cold War hung over everything like a shroud.
The attitudes are 1954: the inmate Bridget Kearns, there because of axing an abusive husband to death, would have used the battered wife syndrome defense nowadays. Teddy even comments on how normal she appears until he learns that she’s Lizzie Borden. It’s like the Mary Ann doll on the Island of Misfit Toys when you can’t figure out why she’s there. :)
The scene in which Teddy sees his dead wife and its starts raining blood and ashes is beautifully-done, lyrical and evocative and the horror builds as Dolores eventually turns to ashes in his arms.
The fury of a New England hurricane rattles the windowpanes and brings trees crashing down as the grim old Civil War-era buildings ride out the storm. During the height of the storm, Teddy suffers a debilitating migraine, and his hallucinations increase.
The New England accents are passable, but Hollywood still can’t get ‘em right. I’ll be curious to see if Christian Bale can pull it off when he plays a New Englander in an upcoming film of his.
Leonardo DiCaprio draws us into the tortured Teddy’s world, his war and personal traumas making him as damaged as any patient at Ashecliff. Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley) is a compassionate psychiatrist but is creepy around the edges. Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) is a supportive, loyal partner to Teddy, and the various other characters of staff and patients are menacing and unpredictable in understated doses.
Could there be slash from this film? There were some good vibes between Teddy and Chuck, and Teddy risks everything to go after his partner later in the film. Just my slashy mind wondering! ;)
This film truly evokes the paranoia and 'feel' of Cold War 1954, and gives us a stormy New England on top of it, with a rocky island and wild hurricane.
Some people have complained about the music score but it sounded fine to me.
I’ve learned that there are an army of critics out there who nitpick everything, and sometimes you just gotta sit back and enjoy the ride.
I’d recommend this movie for fans of psychological thrillers with threads of horror running through it (also fans of period pieces). When you leave the theater, the movie will stay with you. Some scenes are disturbing in graphic violence and imagery. There is a twist that explains quite a bit, and I’ll leave that to you to see. :)