Unreal Movie Review: Shutter Island


As it turns out, Martin Scorsese’s newest foray into horror, a genre he rarely visits, isn’t really a horror film at all. Horror films are scary, and more importantly, are at least suspenseful, and quite honestly, Shutter Island is neither. What it is however, is a rather excellent psychological thriller that might not have you jumping out of your seat, but is well worth two and half hours of your time, and it will bend your brain in ways that most movies won’t.

Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a Boston-based Federal Marshall, sent to the mental institution on Shutter Island to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a prisoner, Rachel Solando, from the facility. Accompanying him is his new partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), and upon their arrival, they’re greeted by the island’s curator, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley).

Almost immediately, everything and everyone on the island screams conspiracy to Teddy, with Cawley balking at nearly all of his requests to interview patients and staff, and refusing him access to the more secretive parts of the institution, and so the evidence begins to mount up that something far more sinister is afoot.


“You are bald, that is suspicious.”

More is revealed about Teddy’s motivations as well as time goes on, as it becomes clear he’s not just interested in this missing patient, but rather believes he will find both the man responsible for his wife’s death held somewhere on the island, and also he plans to uncover just why intelligence agencies and shadowy government figures have such a vested interest in the place, which seems to be hiding much behind closed, bolted and electrified doors.

As his investigation progresses, what’s real and imagined on the island begins to blur together. He’s haunted by his dead wife, who whispers that the island will be the death of him, and terrified patients warn him that he must get out now, before it’s too late. But once he starts to get island fever and makes steps toward leaving on the ferry that brought him there, it’s clear that might be a more difficult prospect than he imagined.

If it sounds like I’ve revealed too much of the plot here, you’ll have to trust me when I say I haven’t, as when the full scope of the film is revealed, you’ll find enough twists and turns in it to make M. Night Shyamalan’s head spin.


Probably any caption here would be a spoiler.

But despite all these reveals throughout the film, it always does feel rather predictable. Teddy has the unfortunate tendency to think out loud for the duration of the film, and so the mystery surrounding the conspiracy isn’t exactly a surprise as it unfolds.

And of course, the film features a massive twist at the end that makes you question everything that came before it. But yet, that too barely feels like a surprise, as quite honestly it’s something you can almost predict from the trailer. That being said, even though it might not be a “shocker” to your average thinking movie-goer, the way the twist is revealed and the way it weaves through the rest of the plot is masterfully done and painfully sad, and it gives the film the emotional punch that it was lacking for the previous two hours. Though to be fair, I would probably credit most of that to the original book, rather than to anything in particular Scorsese has done to bring it to the screen.

Scorsese for all his talents, just doesn’t really understand how to make an effective horror film. Shutter Island works extremely well on the psychological level, but it most definitely is being sold as a horror movie, a title that most will find misleading once they see it for themselves.

All the pieces are there. The creepy setting, the villainous authority figures, the main character not knowing up from down in a state of constant paranoia. But it just doesn’t fit together in a way that creates any real tension. The mystery of it all is enough to keep the plot moving forward, but there aren’t really any hard-hitting moments until the very end of the film.


“Act scared, like REALLY scared. Then the audience will be scared. That’s how this works, right?”

The supporting cast is excellent in the film, and you’ll appreciate their performances even more after the movie’s uber-twist, and DiCaprio proves he’s as much as a leading man as he ever was, though I do have to say the man can be a little bit over the top with his emoting and his Bahs-tin accent he mistakenly thinks he has mastered.

Scorsese crafts an extremely picturesque and unnerving setting here on this tiny, storm-ravaged island, but there are moments that jump out as being rather poorly shot, and when that catches MY amateurish eye, it really must be something out of place. Prime examples of this include the massively overdone score during the Marshalls’ entrance to the institution, a laughably obvious greenscreened exchanged between Teddy and the warden as they drive through a forest, and a flashback where Teddy and his former army unit massacre what appears to be a 200-man legion of Nazis with a handful of bullets in around eight seconds. All of these scenes really took me out of the moment, and I wouldn’t have thought Scorsese would let stuff like this slide by him without catching it as oddly inconsistent with the rest of the film’s realism.

But despite its flaws, its predictability and the complete abandonment of the horror genre, I was quite impressed with the final product, and as a psychological thriller, it is reminiscent of mind-f*ck classics like Memento and The Orphanage in many ways. Its twists and turns might not be mind-blowing, but it is a very smart film made by a lot of very smart people, but I would caution Marty to get back to other genres he knows a bit better.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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  1. I hated this movie and still refuse to believe Scorcese made it. So predictable it’s not even funny. And that’s ignoring the trailers that revealed just about everything.

  2. I must be missing something from the trailers, because I really don’t know what this twist could be. I’m going to check this out regardless, I think.

    @ Josh

    If it wasn’t predictable, would it have been good? I imagine the acting is pretty quality…

  3. I meant to see it this weekend, having read the book and was extremely excited to see it…there just isn’t enough time though on the weekends, sigh.

    This book literally made my jaw drop at the reveal at the end. “Didn’t see it coming” doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings after reading it. I sat in shock for about 20 minutes, then replaying the whole novel in my head, piecing together everything once again.

    I’ve given this book to about 5 friends, and all of them ending up reading the entire book in one sitting. Can’t wait to see the movie

  4. I really enjoyed it. I find that if I go into the cinema with no pretenses of what the movie will be like or about, I enjoy them a lot more.

    The small things in the movie really jumped out at me.

    I thought it was great

  5. I thought this film was fantastic. I originally thought it was going to be a horror, but it wasn’t. I thought I knew what was going to happen, and by the time it did I was vaguely right…but that didn’t matter. At the end of the day, no matter if you know what’s coming in this film, it’s an utter mind-rape.

  6. @Madison

    The only reason I kinda figured out the twist, not the exact details, but the general idea of it is I keep thinking about K-Pax while I was watching the trailer.

  7. Loved the book. Then ending was a shocker there. Once revealed, you go back and think of all the odd things that happened and say “How did I miss that!” Sounds like the movie won’t hold up to the book, which is sad. Just follow the book like a script and you got a winner. It’s not a long book.

    At least I know not to be particularly amped to see the movie now. I’ll still see it, though. To bad they cut out the patient interviews, though, I’d love to see Leo trying to pull off Charlie Chaplin.

  8. in all of the articles, trailers, and teasers that I have seen of this movie I never once thought of it to be a “horror” movie. It was always sold as a suspenseful thriller. I think you just wanted it to be a horror movie so you set yourself up for disappointment.

  9. I think the beauty of the entire movie is you don’t know how to feel and you don’t know which to believe. You are very much in the mind of Leo’s character. Paranoid and stuck between two different things that both could very much be true. I called it very early on. The fact that it didn’t show him anywhere else but the Ferry and the Island. He has experienced Trauma. The Doctor said he does experimental procedures. Patients seemed coached. Just met his partner.

  10. I’m a huge Scorsese fan but this was a bad movie. Bad acting, predictable story and uninspired shots with some bad editing. The only highlights of the movie was the music and the small parts of Jackie Earle Haley and Ted Levine.
    And while I thought his take on Cape Fear was slightly weak, it was much more thrilling than this.
    Scorsese, just move on and make Silence now!

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