Shutter Island (2010): A Scorsese Screamer

Shutter Island (film)
Shutter Island (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Director Martin Scorsese’s film Shutter Island was touted as ‘Scorsese does horror’ by the studio marketing department. The teasers and trailers that cropped up in theatres and television as early as 2008 slotted the film firmly in the scary screamer category.

So I was a little bit more than confused when I finally got to watch the film in 2010. Munching my popcorn in the darkened theatre, I expected to lose at least half of it from jumping and jerking at the scary bits. Thankfully, that was not to be (thankfully, because I love eating popcorn while watching a movie, it is as perfect a combination as say, peaches and cream).

Instead I found myself watching a damned good psychological thriller.  There was a mixture of mystery, drama, horror and tragedy thrown in for good measure, but, it was undeniably a thriller. So despite the studio publicity hacks best attempts at dooming the picture because of misrepresentation, Shutter Island shot straight into the Blockbuster category.

I mean was there ever any doubt that Scorsese, the Wunderkind who grew up, wouldn’t pack the cinema’s with his ‘tribute’ to Hitchcock?  Not in my mind. Scorsese has hit more out of the metaphorical ball park than Babe Ruth. Okay, time to move on from the Scorsese fan-boy stroking.

The film opens with US Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) on a ferry heading to Shutter Island. They are going to Ashecliffe Hospital and institution for the criminally insane based on the island. They’ve been sent there to investigate the disappearance of a patient, Rachel Solando (Emily Mortimer).

Rachel was imprisoned for murdering her three children by drowning them. As Ashecliffe Hospital is, despite it’s name, a maximum security prison located on an island, the disappearance has a ‘locked room’ mystery air to it.

On the journey out to the island, we learn that Teddy is a decorated war hero and that this is the first time he has worked with his partner. When the men land on the island they are met by a hostile group of  ‘prison officers’ who demand that they hand over their weapons.

The two Marshall’s are then escorted to a meeting with the head psychiatrist, Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley). Dr Cawley is oddly reluctant to deal with the investigating Marshall’s and refuses to hand over medical records of the missing woman. He explains that Rachel’s doctor is on holiday and he refuses them access to the ward that she went missing from.

Cawley then explains that they have already searched the island and it’s broken lighthouse, he is of the opinion that the officers have wasted their time coming to the island.

We learn that Teddy suffers from migraines and he also has flashbacks about the war and the death of his wife. The war flashbacks are from his unit coming across a ‘death camp’ and his subsequent ‘execution’ of the SS Commandant who ran it. The flashbacks of his wife’s death involve the man who killed her, an arsonist that had a grudge against Teddy, Andrew Laeddis (Elias Koteas).

While the meeting is going on, Teddy and his partner Chuck meet Dr Naehring (Max von Sydow) who questions Teddy about the war and makes certain assertions about him and his personality. Teddy reacts aggressively and his flashbacks about the war increase as does his migraine.

Teddy and Chuck questioning the staff.

Teddy starts questioning the staff and patients who, like Dr Cawley, are reluctant to help. The staff come across as bored and hostile, the patients unfocussed. Only one patient appears to be ‘with it’ and she slips Teddy a note telling him to run.

Teddys get frustrated at the lack of cooperation and decides to break into Ward C. Teddy’s migraine gets so bad that he passes out and when he wakes up he has been given ‘hospital’ clothes. He begins to think that the entire hospital is engaging in a conspiracy to hide what really happened to Rachel and he has found evidence that his wife’s murderer is a patient there.

Teddy thinks that a trap has been laid for him and his partner, but they are both stuck on the island as a hurricane blows in.

As a thriller Shutter Island works brilliantly. The plot twists and turns and as we follow Teddy around on his investigation, we get as lost as he is. The truth is hidden behind lies and misdirection. There are scary bits in the film as well as disturbing ones.

We grow to like Teddy and his partner, although, as the film progresses we start to mistrust Chuck and begin to question his motives and his loyalty to Teddy. We struggle with Teddy as he finds clues as to what is really going on at the hospital and we share his frustration at the many dead ends and false leads he encounters.

Shutter Island is Scorsese at his best. He masterfully weaves the threads of this tale and neatly ties them up at the end. The cinematography of the island and the hospital is dark, uncomfortable and unsettling. When Teddy has his many flashbacks the scenes are brightly lit and jarring. The music suits the mood of the film and helps to sell the finality and  sadness that the doomed Teddy faces.

Shutter Island

I feel that Shutter Island is a thriller, but Teddy’s own story could very well be classified as horror. The film is a worthy adaptation of the novel by Dennis Lehane it manages to evoke the same feelings and reactions about Teddy and his predicament.

I mentioned that I love the combination of popcorn and movies. Well, I can generally measure how good a film is by the amount of time it takes me to consume a large bag of popcorn. The better the film, the faster the popcorn runs out.

I ran out of popcorn before a quarter of the film had gone by and I lost not one kernel to ‘jumps’ or ‘scares.’

Dreamscape (1984): Inceptions Pappa

Cover of "Dreamscape"
Cover of Dreamscape

Directed by Joseph Ruben (The StepfatherThe ForgottenDreamscape  is about dreaming, going into someone else’s dream and controlling it.

If the plot sounds familiar, it’s because it is. The concept has been used to great effect in two other films. The Cell (2000) and Inception (2010) both utilized the plot device of entering another person’s dreams and either controlling or changing them. All three films are very different from Dreamscape, but it is obviously this film that spawned the latter two.

Starring a young Dennis Quaid (Pandorum, Legion), younger Max von Sydow (Shutter IslandMinority Report), Christopher Plummer (Up, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Kate Capshaw (Indiana Jones and the Temple of DoomSpaceCamp) and Eddie Albert  (The Longest Yard, Escape to Witch Mountain) the film delivers an entertaining punch.

Dreamscape deals with entering dreams via psychic powers and a little help from machinery that lets the psychic know when the target has started the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) that shows they have started dreaming.

The film opens with a woman running from what looks like a nuclear blast. The whole scene is surrealistic and the colours run together in a psychedelic fashion. We are watching the United States President (Eddie Albert) have a nightmare. It turns out that he has nuclear nightmares on a regular basis.

We then see Alex Gardiner (Dennis Quaid) at the race track. Using his precognitive skills, he successfully picks a long shot to win. When he goes to collect his winnings a gang of crooks try to take his money and make him work for them. Alex evades the crooks and goes home.

Once he is there, he gets a phone call from old friend and mentor Doctor Paul Novotny (Max Von Sydow) who wants him to participate in his new dream experiments. To escape the crooks,who have found out where Alex lives, he decides to take up the offer.

Once there he talks to his mentor and meets his assistant Jane DeVries (Kate Capshaw). He decides to give the experimental programme a go after he meets the man who runs it, Bob Blair (Christopher Plummer)

It turns out that only two of the psychics in the group are skilled enough to really change someone else’s dreams. Alex and a psychotic psychic named  Tommy Ray Glatman (David Patrick Kelly).

We find out two things about Tommy Ray. We learn that he killed his own father and that he has known Bob Blair a long time.

The film moves at a leisurely pace. This does not distract, however, as the action on the screen is still interesting even if it’s not fast paced. At one point Alex enters a young boys dream to help him defeat a “snake-man” who keeps trying to harm him. Alex enables the boy to face his personal monster in the dream and kill it

The overall FX of the film have not aged well. The monster was from the Ray Harryhausen school of stop motion. It did not convince at any time. It looked so much like  The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, that I reverted to childhood for a brief moment. But apart from feeling nostalgic, I did not get anything from the snake-man.

The film features a romance between Quaid and Capshaw. The villain, as portrayed by Christopher Plummer, along with his henchman Tommy Ray  makes us want to hiss and boo each time we see him on screen.

The film’s plot was entertaining and interesting enough that the dated FX did not spoil it at all. Unfortunately, as I have seen The Cell and Inception recently, I could not help but compare the three films.

The Cell dealt more with the technological aspect of entering dreams. Anyone could be hooked up to a machine which would enable them to enter another persons dream. Inception required that both people received injections to make them sleep deep enough that they could enter the trance-like state necessary to enter another’s dreams.

I would say that this film is definitely worth watching. If for no other reason than to see what started the whole dream mechanic utilized in the other two films. It’s also got a sterling cast of seasoned actors who deliver solid performances.

Dreamscape won’t give you nightmares, but it will entertain you.