Shutter Island (2010): Scorsese’s dreary version of a Shyamalan movie

My piece of advice for this film: don’t watch it if you’ve seen the trailer…wait, so about 80% of the population shouldn’t see it?

Quentin Tarantino, Oliver Stone, and Martin Scorsese’s cinematographer + well-casted actors + suspense, mystery, and horror =? Well, I’m still trying to figure that one out. Shutter Island is a good-looking fellow that boasts outstanding performances, but a convoluted story in which the audience is always ten paces ahead of the movie is kind of tiresome.
"Listen Gandhi, I can kick your ass..."

Leonardo DiCaprio plays a Marshall investigating a disappearance at a federal penitentiary…for the criminally insane (cue dramatic chords here). The nut house is located on a remote island, which is only accessible by a ferry and only under the right weather conditions. As the investigation continues, things get stranger and stranger. Leo smells a cover-up and distrusts the doctors. Meanwhile, he is plagued by migraines, which are accompanied by flashbacks of his time as a soldier in WWII and visions of his dead wife. The tonality is one of surreal despair, established through minimalist sound and bleak visuals. Although the film was beautifully shot, Scorsese’s visual design seemed to be inconsistent, as he is caught between modernizing his films and maintaining period appeal.

The second and third act are quite dense. Conversation after conversation, vision upon vision, the film seems to repeat itself over and over again, revealing a needle of information in a haystack of scenes. Scorsese’s longtime editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, certainly could have tightened the pace. There is so much breathing room that tension disappears, boredom ensues, and you find yourself peeking at your watch. In fact, I’m confident that at least 20-30 minutes could have been cut from the film without losing anything important. In return, I believe it would have made the film more tense and would have not made it so easy to get ahead of the film.
"You jump first. I'm right behind ya."

I wasn’t expecting an all-out horror film with Shutter Island. However, there were plenty of moments that were intended to be scary, to be suspenseful, to be horrifying, etc. Yet, I’m not sure Scorsese ever successfully created those emotions. For instance, when DiCaprio must search for a prisoner in the dilapidated, dingy Ward C, it should have been terrifying. The power was out, allowing many prisoners to escape from their cells. With psychotic, violent people running around in the dark, Scorsese had a great opportunity to create some intense moments. Instead, the film is monotonous in its tonality, keeping that surreal despair running at a constant pace throughout. This led to feelings of detachment, instead of a strong emotional connection that should have been important, especially towards the end of the film.
Look into my eyes and tell me you didn't like Shutter Island.

Ultimately, the “twists” or “surprises” are the downfall of Shutter Island. Firstly, the trailers give away too much from the film. In fact, I was able to guess the ending before ever stepping foot in the theatre. Perhaps this was one of the reasons why I felt the movie failed on delivering suspense. It’s tough to watch a movie when you know exactly where it’s going, unless it’s exciting and tense in others ways (this was definitely not). Even if you don’t have it figured out from the trailer, most audience members were catching the drift as early as a half hour into the film. When the ending is obvious so early on, why did the film need to be 140 minutes long? When the big reveal comes, the film continues to go on and on Lord of the Rings style, explaining everything you’ve probably already picked up on. Sure, you get a couple details that you didn’t guess, but Shutter Island’s conclusion treats the audience like children.

In the end, did I enjoy Shutter Island? Kind of.  There are some good things to be said about the movie and a lot of people have enjoyed it. So, use your own judgment, spend your entertainment money wisely, and avoid the trailers.


  1. You know why I love this movie. I think its Scorsese's best. Loved every frame. The flash backs were phenomenal along with the rest of the movie :D

  2. Becky, i think the best film i`ve ever seen on the subject of mental illness (and its one of the best horror films of the last 20 years as well) is John Carpenters ludicrously under-rated 1995 masterwork (and yes, i really do mean "MASTERWORK") "IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS" its a much better film than "SHUTTER iSLAND", how about a reveiw.

  3. Jimmie: Yes, I agree. In the Mouth of Madness was great! One of my favorite Carpenter films and yes, I'd say it is much better than Shutter Island.

  4. I'm glad no one infected you yet so allow me to Becky.

    I have another well deserved award for you! And it's a fun one too.

    Check it out when you get a chance:


  5. Reading the book now, cannot wait to see the film!

  6. I just aw this film so I can come back and comment. I saw a mini-trailer a LONG time ago and pretty much forgot what was in it...but I knew I wanted to see it. Then (and you know how neurotic I am about spoiling films before I see them) I stayed away from any and all reviews to go in fresh. I really, really liked this film. Every time I thought I was ahead of the game and knew what was going on, a curve was thrown. And not just a twist for twist sakes, but twists that logically made sense and strengthened the storyline. And the very, very end...wow!

    Well a well written and insightful review as always Becky. I'm glad to see that you did like it but I guess just not as blown away as I was. Now I am going back to watch the trailers and see how much they give away.