Paramount Pictures | 2010 | 138 min | Rated R

As any fan of Martin Scorsese likely knows, the accomplished director is also a lifelong student of the history of film. Watching the first frames of his latest effort, I couldn’t help but feel like it came right out of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller. A boat emerges from a thick, dense fog; two men in fedoras are aboard, chain smoking and discussing the reason for their uncomfortable ferry ride—one is clearly more fidgety than the other, at one point, excuses himself to vomit in the bathroom. It’s 1954, and the two Federal Marshals are enroute to Ashecliff Hospital in the middle of Boston Harbor in search of an escape mental patient.

Shutter IslandThe two men Edward “Teddy” Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), can be forgiven their nerves. Ashecliff is a place reserved for the criminally insane; all of the patients have committed horrific crimes, most involving murder. In fact, the escape mental patient in question, Rachel Solando, was institutionalized after drowning her three children. Teddy and Chuck, after surrendering their fire arms and having a brief chat with asylum head Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) about his practices and regulations, begin to scour the island for clues.

Before long, Teddy and Chuck believe Rachel may have had help in her escape, a claim Dr. Cawley flatly rejects. When the doctor refuses to provide relative documents for their investigation, Teddy and Chuck decide to expand their scope beyond the hospital, and include the island on which it sits. What ultimately occurs is an unraveling of a complex set of lies, deceptions, despair and confusion that proves some horrors are inescapable.

It’s clear from the beginning, something’s “off.” Without going into details that might spell out too many of the narratives twists, I will say that Scorsese employs a narrator who is clearly unreliable, and doesn’t explicitly reveal where the perspective diverges from an objective view of events. As a result, we can never fully trust what we’re seeing. With Shutter Island, Scorsese has blurred the lines between flashbacks, dream sequences, and reality. For some (myself included), it will likely take at least two viewings before they can differentiate between all of them.

Scorsese appears to have drawn some inspiration from the noir films of the 1940’s and ‘50’s and conventional horror. The result is a film reminiscent of how Stanley Kubrick approached The Shining. The hospital itself, with its long, foreboding hallways is a character in itself. Not particularly known for his work in thrillers/ horror—with the exception of 1991’s Cape Fear, which was a remake—the director clearly made the most of his opportunity. This may be as close to a true horror film as Scorsese ever gets. The forbidding island, the dark and stormy nights, the hurricane that shuts off the power, the creepy inmates, the vanishing woman, the presence of Ted Levine (the killer in Silence of the Lambs) as a warden and Jackie Earle Haley (the child molester in Little Children) as a prisoner. Genius that he is, Scorsese moves these fine actors around like pieces on a chess board; having them appear around corners and at the bottom of staircases.

None of the characters are as scary as Hanibal Lecter, but shutter Island definitely has some elements of The Silence of the Lambs, The Shining and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. After giving it some thought, Teddy isn’t unlike Cuckoo’s Nest lead character McMurphy, he’s quite possibly the only person on the island who isn’t criminally insane.

Like all good thrillers, Shutter Island engages while challenging the viewer. While I wouldn’t quite put this one in the same class as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas, Scorsese has crafted another well made film. All of the actors give very good performances, but this was simply not the kind of film that wins Oscars. However, it does demand repeat viewings, and even then, you may be pondering the ending.

Shutter Island’s cinematography grasps hold of complex, dense coloring, lighting, and structural curiosities, and Paramount’s 2.35:1-framed 1080p AVC encode astounds with its representation of the material. Cinematographer Robert Richardson’s palette appears more expounded and balanced than the theatrical showing, yet never seems too saturated or embellished within skin tones or splashes of color. Shots ratchet through cold, rain-drenched sequences amid the Ashecliffe Asylum’s grounds to the haunting warmth within Dr. Cawley’s quarters, exercising profuse skill in contrast preservation and textural authenticity. The video transfer here is reference quality material.

Almost as impressive, the DTS HD Master Audio track thunders with eerie atmosphere and crisp dialogue. Several of the sequences in the film lean towards being front-heavy, especially a conversation between Teddy and Chuck near a chain-link fence. Their chatter remains clear and the rainfall cascades wonderfully, yet the activity doesn’t stretch to the rear channels as much as expected. It’s only one or two of these scenes that wall off this audio track from earning the same accolades as the visual presentation, because the atmosphere concocted through verbal coarseness, aggressive weather, a swarm of squealing rats, and the “deafening silence” scattered about the film — especially during the repeated match-lighting sequence in Ward C — are really impressive. French, Spanish, and Portuguese 5.1 language tracks are also available, while English, English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese option subs accompany the film.

Shutter Island only offers up two extras:

Behind the Shutters (1080p, 17:10) features interviews with cast, crew, and novel author Dennis Lehane, all discussing the themes of the story, the work of Director Martin Scorsese, the cast’s preparations for their roles, the music, and the film’s elements of duality.
Into the Lighthouse (1080p, 21:11) takes a closer look at the film’s construction and the way it weaves deeper psychiatric elements into the story, the actors’ understanding of the film’s darker elements, set design, psychiatric care in the 1950s, etc.

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