After Martin Scorsese’s past efforts with films involving more down-to-earth plots and characters, turning to a psychological horror film for his first feature-length film since The Departed was definitely a bit of a change of pace for the director. He’s definitely no stranger to traversing various time periods and the films 1950s setting certainly feels like you’re in the usual Scorsese place at first…but within minutes of docking on Shutter Island, our main characters give us a clear indication that this isn’t going to be your usual Scorsese or drama-filled DiCaprio outing. While critics were somewhat mixed on the whole thing, audiences seemed to love it as the film went on to make $294 million worldwide—a personal best for Scorsese.
Academy Award® winning† director MARTIN SCORSESE once again teams up with LEONARDO DICAPRIO in this spine-chilling thriller that critics say “sizzles with so much suspense that it’s hot to the touch.”** When U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) arrives at the asylum for the criminally insane on Shutter Island, what starts as a routine investigation quickly takes a sinister turn. As the investigation unfolds and Teddy uncovers more shocking and terrifying truths about the island, he learns there are some places that never let you go. **Peter Travers, ROLLING STONE.
As strange as it is for me to see quotes from Ain’t It Cool News spread across movie covers now (strange because I remember visiting them before this kind of stuff was the norm, not because of the sites sometime questionable reputation), the one Paramount chose to put on the home video release for Shutter Island is remarkably apt: “A stunning masterpiece that requires and demands multiple viewings.” While the “stunning masterpiece” is questionable due to how pandering it sounds, the rest of the quote is succinctly apt. This isn’t a film you can watch only once (unless you absolutely despise it after the first round, in which case I doubt you’ll volunteer for a second) and by its very nature it is something that you must either pay very close attention to or re-watch several times because there are so many subtle and unique clues hidden throughout the film that there is very little possibility you will catch them all the first time.
That kind of story telling may annoy some; they want to watch a movie once and understand most, if not all, of it the first time around. After all, our time is precious; who wants to have to watch a film multiple times just to understand what the hell it was about. I’m like that with a lot of films too, but with Shutter Island I was so wrapped up with the story that I breezed past these visual and aural clues that creeped onto various frames. I can definitely see where the dislike of this film stems from, but I was honestly so enraptured by it that I couldn’t foresee myself not watching it a second time.
I’ll try not to ruin any major plot points for those reading this review, although I should warn you now that proceeding any further will undoubtedly still hinder your enjoyment of the film. This is one of those films that is incredibly difficult to talk about because in order to really review it you have to kind of spoil the big twist at the end. True, it’s almost M. Night Shyamalan bad in how quickly the film performs a 180 degree turn, but unlike the twist in The Sixth Sense where your face contorted into various positions that exhibited the internal mixture of “what the–?” feelings that flooded your mind, you kind of knew something wasn’t right with Shutter Island in the first place. We know this from the first few minutes when the creepy kind of bald lady gives a scary ass glance to Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) which makes us wonder what the deuce is going on with the island.
In fact that’s why I liked the film so much. It kept you guessing; you kind of assumed you knew one thing about the film, but it slowly built its case into the other end and by the time the films true purpose was revealed you could hardly believe it. It really didn’t seem like that was possible, yet when the truth came out it all made absolute sense. I liken watching this film to the first time I saw Memento or The Machinist–they twist with your head so much that when the end result finally crops out you have no choice but to agree with it because it was the only thing that tied together all of the elements of the film even if you never thought of that as a possible outcome.
I’m sure quite a few people watched the film and went “I called it!” when the big reveal happened; that’s entirely possible, as if I’d been actively trying to figure out the mystery of the island I would have probably come to a similar conclusion at some point. Instead I was more concerned with the random pop-out and scare you moments that the film kept bringing up; they were cheap tactics, sure, but they kept you from really dwelling on the story for too long of a time. I mean how do a thousand rats pouring out of a tiny hole actually help you focus on a story? It doesn’t. It’s all just really screwed up and it was visuals like that that kept you from trying to jump ahead of the films story. At least for me it did—I wanted to be entertained by the film if only because I’d heard from so many people that it was an incredible waste of time. After watching the film I’m not sure how anyone could really say that unless you don’t like mind-benders. But, then again, maybe I was just in the mood to have my brain turned to mush again after watching six seasons of Lost and wondered if I’d ever feel that same sense of confusion and bewilderment by something projected on my TV again.
Of course you can heap on all the praise for a story you want but if the actors don’t deliver than it doesn’t work. Thankfully everyone here was on truly top form; DiCaprio once again proved why he is Scorsese’s muse and Ruffalo makes you wonder why you don’t see him in more high-profile pieces more often. There are also the more incidental characters that stand out too like Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson as…well, I won’t mention the character names as that’s a bit of a spoiler. Then of course there is Jackie Earle Haley playing a deranged inmate in the creepiest way possible (he’s always good at stuff like that) and John Carroll Lynch as the guard that you aren’t sure if you can trust. It’s a fantastic mix and I have laugh a bit considering both Lynch and Ruffalo were in Zodiac, the director (David Fincher) of which was originally going to direct this movie as well.
There are tiny elements to the film that still bug me, but they’ll probably be relaxed a bit on further viewings. How the whole film can even play out safely is a big uncertainty I have about the film considering how dangerous it all seems…but it’s a belief suspension you have to allow to happen otherwise the film just kind of falls apart. I’m being intentionally vague here, again, for spoiler sake but I’m sure you’ll be irked by the same elements upon your first viewing as well.
Overall Shutter Island I could go on and on about this film but I’ll just cap it at this and say: this is a great film and one of Scorsese’s best. Highly Recommended.
Paramount brings out Shutter Island in a single disc Blu-ray package without any kind of frills, both in the packaging and in the extra content on the disc. Disc art is the usual grey wash and menus are simple and easy to navigate.
This may very well be a flawless transfer considering not only how strong and deep the colors can be but also because the film frequently changes between scenes that are of varying color palettes. Whether it’s the stormy sequences on the island itself or the war-time flashbacks, there’s a lot of moody and inky black sequences to look upon. Then there’s the fiery apartment scene or the eventual revelation flashback, which are both warmly lit and show off the softer palettes for the film…although they’re also two of the more disturbing sequences in the film itself. To top it all off there’s a slight film grain to the entire thing, which makes for an incredibly appealing transfer from start to finish.
Audio is a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix and considering how many thunderous and loud sequences there is in the film, it’s no surprise that it’s an equally pleasing part of the technical transfer. From the storm sequences swirling around the surrounds and thumping out of the subwoofer to the sporadic gun shots or the creepier scenes with inmate chatter jumping around the room, there’s plenty to engross you when it comes to this film. While they combo may not make for a demo disc simply because the subject matter is often so violent (in the psychological sense more than the physical), they do present the film in a remarkably stunning way regardless.
Extras, as previously mentioned, are very light. There are only two featurettes, Behind the Shutters (17:10, 1080p) and Into the Lighthouse (21:11, 1080p), and both are really just making-of pieces split into a more cast and crew focus and the other a deeper look into constructing the overall look, feel, and authenticity of the film.
Overall this isn’t a perfect disc, nor a perfect movie, but still one that’s Recommended. There’s a lot to enjoy about the movie but you’ll likely not truly begin to appreciate it until the second time around as it allows you to pick up on a lot more of the random and subtle clues that the film leaves around.
Shutter Island arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on June 8th.