NOTE: This is a spoiler-free advance review of the film. Shut In debuts on February 10th on www.dailywire.com, with a simultaneous limited time free viewing on YouTube.
In an era where psychological thrillers have largely been done to death, it is particularly difficult to come up with a novel idea that will resonate with fans of the genre. Given the relatively low cost of producing films within this particular space, the floodgates have essentially been opened for a sea of copycats and derivative works to pour in.
This is where Shut In faces its greatest challenge. It’s the first original film developed by conservative media outlet The Daily Wire, which has experienced explosive growth over the past few years, and is now making an official foray into the world of filmmaking.
Shut In serves a dual purpose – to entertain audiences with a brisk, tense, and atmospheric thriller, while also carving out an alternative space for both audiences, and industry professionals trying to escape the propagandistic quagmire of Leftist-dominated Hollywood.
The question is, does it work?
Thankfully, the answer is yes, though with a few tiny caveats. Shut In uses the nail-biting thriller motif to trojan horse in a few key messages that end up becoming far more important than its overall premise. Its only real weak point lies in particular story mechanics, which don’t always make sense.
Shut In centers around the character of Jessica, played with excellence by actress Rainey Qualley, best known for appearances in films like Ocean’s 8 and Ultrasound, and TV hits like Mad Men. Jessica is both a single mom, and a recovering drug addict trying to stay on the straight and narrow for the sake of her two young children, Lainey and Mason.
While prepping for a getaway trip to Texas in order to start a new life, Jessica is accosted in her own home by her junkie ex-boyfriend Rob played by Jake Horowitz (The Vast of Night) and his pusher Sammy, played by Vincent Gallo (Goodfellas, Buffalo 66), a reputed child molester.
Fearing for the safety of her children, Jessica tries to get them to leave peacefully, but an angry Rob reacts by shoving Jessica into a pantry, then nailing it shut with 2x4s so she can’t escape.
To make matters worse, he also slips a baggie of drugs under the door in the hopes that she’ll fall off the wagon, and relapse back into addiction once more.
Jessica is forced to use her wits and willpower to escape the pantry and get back to her children, who are still in the house, and therefore vulnerable to the outside world. The more time ticks away, the greater the threat becomes, especially within Jessica’s makeshift prison.
Themes & Messaging
The film succeeds largely by injecting a series of cleverly disguised messages into the framework of the narrative, which center heavily around Jessica’s character. It’s less about her terrifying plight, and more about the temptations and dangers that stir within her own mind.
Her relationship with little daughter Lainey is a big part of the overall story, with the latter serving as an anchor to keep Jessica in the here and now. By encouraging Lainey to step up and play the part of mommy for one terrifying day, Jessica is forced to look within, and remind herself of what it means to be a responsible parent.
And that’s largely where Shut In focuses its narrative – the concept of motherhood, and parenting in general.
The notion of being physically separated from one’s own children during a time of heightened danger is horrifying, and parents have been known to go to any lengths necessary in order to keep them safe.
That’s just one facet of the thematic elements the movie attempts to tackle. Without giving too much of the plot away, Jessica must come face to face with her own inner demons, some of which go back quite a ways.
The way in which the writers leave these references purposely opaque is very clever, and prevents the film from feeling exploitative, while also keeping focus on the main story.
There’s a strong religious element to the movie as well; a bold move in modern film culture, which tends to snub Christian values in favor of a “do what thou wilt” approach.
Full disclosure – this writer is an Atheist. Yet, it’s remarkably easy to appreciate and admire Shut In’s message regarding the concept of faith, and the importance of walking the straight and narrow path. Irrespective of personal religious belief or non-belief, each viewer is capable of understanding the message.
Once again, the religious element is used effectively, sprinkled in at just the right times in ways that feel appropriate to the story.
The result is a film with an uplifting message, as opposed to a nihilistic one. The concept of redemption is one of the strongest thematic elements of the story, and it works whether Jessica is fighting tooth and nail for survival, or bonding with her children as a young mother.
Sound + Video = A Dynamite Combo
The film was directed by D.J. Caruso, best known for his directorial work in TV shows like Dark Angel, Smallville, and The Shield, as well as films like Disturbia, xXx: Return of Xander Cage, and Two For The Money, starring Al Pacino and Matthew McConaughey. Here, Caruso tackles Shut In’s isolated single set design with a strong combination of camera angles and sound work.
A large chunk of the film takes place inside the cramped pantry, where Jessica is effectively “shut in,” and forced to find a way out. As she communicates with those on the outside (particularly her daughter Lainey), Caruso implements sound for the purpose of spatial awareness and narrative anchoring.
It’s done in such a way that the audience feels trapped in the pantry along with her, which is a lot harder to pull off in application, as opposed to theory. The film’s second act purposely skimps on any and all exterior shots outside of the pantry, preferring to ramp up tension by leveraging claustrophobia with an increasing sense of danger.
It works, with just a few minor stumbles along the way.
What Doesn’t Work
No film is perfect, and Shut In is no different. When Jessica is first imprisoned inside the pantry, the story quickly loses its momentum by focusing on Jessica coming to grips with her own self-reflection.
It does give the audience a chance to learn more about her character’s backstory, including the trauma of her own past addiction, but it tends to shuffle at a point where it should be ratcheting up the tension.
Thankfully, the dry spell doesn’t last too long, and Shut In quickly finds its footing again, which sets up the latter half of the second act, not to mention a dynamite third act. It’s a nice save that prevents the movie from sinking into pretentious quicksand, which is where many of these thrillers inevitably end up.
Minor criticism should be directed towards portions of the script, which can sometimes feel implausible. For instance, it’s hard to swallow the notion that Jessica’s children were left alone in the house after her imprisonment, to fend for themselves.
It also doesn’t line up logically against the film’s two primary antagonists, both of which have a vested interest in the children, for two entirely different reasons.
However, without the presence of Lainey in the house, Jessica would lack the aforementioned anchor to the overall story, and it would no doubt have robbed the film of its redemption arc. Therefore, it’s a forgivable misstep.
Also, Jessica’s interactions with Lainey can sometimes feel a bit implausible, at least during the first half of the film, but it’s certainly not enough to derail their chemistry.
What Does Work
The first trailer for Shut In focused primarily on the main premise of Jessica getting trapped inside a pantry, and having to fight her way out. However, the actual film is more than just that.
It utilizes the main story arc largely as a tension-filled juggernaut wedged firmly between two effective bookends, the latter of which circumvents audience expectations in clever ways.
In short, the story doesn’t play out precisely as audiences might expect from a film of this type, which is a good thing. Those expecting a film where the lead character MacGyvers herself out of a jam might be disappointed, but Shut In never feels like a cheap con.
The tense psychological elements work largely to showcase the reprehensible effects of drug addiction, and the desperate lengths folks will go to in order to score a fix, which will hit home with viewers who have gone down that road in the past.
In this particular case, two innocent children are caught in the crosshairs, which is an all-too-common occurrence within families living under the dark cloud of addiction. The message is a strong one, and the way Jessica faces down her own demons is a model for parents battling the specter of addiction, while trying to stay clean for the sake of their children.
It’s also nice to see a dark and gritty thriller for mature audiences that doesn’t spend every waking minute nuking the script with unyielding extreme profanity. F-bombs are few and far between, leaving lesser expletives free to spice up the script, without over-seasoning the entire dish.
Shut In also refuses to rely on exploitative Hills Have Eyes-style shock value, keeping the horror grounded and plausible, each and every time. It’s neither an ugly nor controversial flick, but rather, one that relies on the strength of its messaging to make an impact on the audience.
If Shut In is any indication, The Daily Wire has a bright future in moviemaking. It may not boast the biggest budget, the widest reach, or the most phenomenal storyline, but big things always have small beginnings.
What the company does now will help forge the path forward into more ambitious and larger projects, including the upcoming Terror on the Prairie, starring ex-Mandalorian actress Gina Carano.
As such, Shut In is definitely worth a watch. It manages to expand the narrative space of the psychological thriller genre without falling victim to its stereotypical trappings. The performances are excellent, with Rainey Qualley stealing the show as a believable young mom, and a recovering addict stumbling her way back into the light.
The full film debuts on February 10th with a simultaneous limited time free showing on YouTube, so be sure to head on over to www.dailywire.com for more info, and become a member if you wish to support a blossoming new alternative cultural movement.
- A clever twist on the psychological thriller genre
- Excellent cast performances
- A powerful and uplifting message
- Slightly implausible plot elements
- Loses some early momentum
- A few character interactions feel nonsensical