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Shut In

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“Shut In” has some of the right ingredients for a good thriller, but it has them in the wrong proportions. (It also has some ingredients that are just wrong.) When the story’s central mystery is explained, it comes across as ludicrous and unmotivated because the part that should have laid the foundation for it was glossed over. Meanwhile, the part of the story that comes after the reveal – usually the last 10-15 minutes of a 90-minute movie – takes 30 minutes. You gotta follow the recipe, man.

In snowy Maine lives a recently widowed child psychologist named Dr. Mary Portman (Naomi Watts) whose teenage stepson, Stephen (Charlie Heaton), was rendered quadriplegic by the same accident that killed his father. Mary tends to all of Stephen’s needs now while continuing to run her practice, and the burden is overwhelming. Her own shrink, Dr. Wilson (Oliver Platt), with whom she confers via Skype (so that he can contribute to the plot later by seeing something in Mary’s home that she doesn’t), urges her to put Stephen in a care facility.

Then one night a 9-year-old deaf boy named Tom (Jacob Tremblay), a foster kid who’d been to see Mary at her office, shows up at her house without explanation. While Mary’s in the other room talking to the authorities on the phone (she left the room so the boy, who is deaf, wouldn’t hear her end of the conversation), Tom disappears. Now Mary has to cope with her paralyzed son, her stressful job, AND her guilt over letting a vulnerable child slip through her grasp, AND the fact that spooky things are starting to happen in her house, AND her annoying nightmares that give the film its only startling moments.

It’s a thin movie, to be sure. Directed by Farren Blackburn (a TV guy) from a screenplay by Christina Hodson (her first credit), it barely has enough meat on its narrative bones to be stretched into a feature. And “stretched” is definitely the right word, the formulaic plot being dragged out to tedious effect while we wait impatiently for the climax.

You know what? I’ll go ahead and tell you how it ends, so you won’t be tempted to watch it.

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

Stephen, the quadriplegic teenager, has been faking being paralyzed so that Mary, whom he’s obsessed with, would have to cater to his every need and be with him 24 hours a day. (The psychological context that would have made this plausible was completely skipped. All we know about Stephen pre-accident is that he’d been expelled from school.) Seeing young Tom as a threat to his monopoly on Mary’s time, Stephen stashed the boy (alive) in the house’s crawlspace, hence the unusual noises. I suspect the reason Stephen was written as Mary’s stepson rather than biological son was so it would be less sad in the end when she has to kill him to save Tom (and maybe to reduce the creepiness of Stephen’s obsession with her, though it’s not really a sexual obsession anyway, and even if it were, it’s Naomi Watts, who could blame him?).

D (1 hr., 31 min.; PG-13, scattered profanity, brief partial nudity, some violence.)