Home invasion films are the indie horror director’s dream. They can shoot with a small cast, in one location, and keep their budget under control without doing any cinematic backbends to make it all work. From FUNNY GAMES to THE STRANGERS and INSIDE these films are necessarily tense and rich with potential horror. Afterall, anyone who has ever been home alone but swore they just heard footsteps outside know how real the fear of invasion can be. With such a rich history filmmakers need to bring new characters and scenarios to this already crowded sub-genre. SHUT IN does just that. It brings a new twist to the home invasion film with mixed results.
Anna (Beth Riesgraf) is home-bound by mental illness. She has extreme agoraphobia and suffers from crippling panic attacks if she leaves the door of her sprawling house. She is not lonely, or at least she was not until her invalid brother died. Anna’s only visitors are her meal delivery man (Rory Culkin) and the lawyer who settles her brother’s estate (Leticia Jimenez). When she should be attending the funeral a group of three men break in to her home to steal the giant bag of cash they have been assured is there.
After a short cat-and-mouse chase which predictably ends with the men discovering Anna’s inability to leave the house the film takes a sudden and much unexpected turn. Though Anna is reserved and has an intrusive disability, she is a far greater threat than they could have foreseen.
What SHUT IN does well is also its major weakness. The film’s new spin on an invasion gone wrong is fun and unpredictable, but the film also gets bogged down by trying to add too much story to its twist. The twist involves far too much exposition, when a simpler storyline would have given us more time to focus on the horror and less time to follow the plot. The story does make sense and it is an interesting one, but it is unnecessarily involved. A little ambiguity could have gone a long way.
Riesgraf’s performance as Anna is excellent, but her character is a little uneven. She switches from victim to aggressor and back several times, but never fully seems empowered or downtrodden. In other words, the erratic character arc makes her actions confusing, and you never really get to figure her out. By having Anna be so unrelatable, it is difficult to root for her. Also, and I hate to nit-pick details like this, her hair and makeup are distractingly perfect throughout the entire film. She has the kind of tousled hair that some may think looks effortless, but actually takes a lot of work and maintenance. Her clothes in the beginning tell us that she is supposed to be homely and plain, but then she spends the rest of the film in a perfectly fitted lace dress with matching hair and makeup. This just adds to my confusion over who Anna really is.
One bright spot in the film is Martin Starr’s performance as one of the invaders. He is cocky and sarcastic, and though not physically intimidating his malevolent attitude makes me not want to spend any time with him. This guy will stop at anything to get “his” money, and is not loyal to his co-criminals, but never resorts to acting like a caricature.
SHUT IN surprised me- it brings some new life to a crowded subgenre.