It has been almost twenty years since Martin Scorsese has last took on a genre film like Cape Fear but with his latest effort Scorsese has returned to the horror landscape once again.
Let me clarify that Shutter Island is not a horror film like The Wolfman where the "scares" are primarily from a loud musical score at a select moment and at least thirteen gallons of blood. This is real horror; the things that keep you up at night long after watching them like The Shining, or Jacob's Ladder.
Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo)is on investigation to find out how patient Rachel Solando disappeared from the Ashecliffe Institute on Shutter Island. The only ferry that comes to the island is under control of the institute and the island is more than ten miles away from the Boston shore. Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) is concerned with the safety of people on the island after the escape of Solando, but he is keeping something from Teddy and Chuck. As more and more is unwrapped about Ashecliffe Teddy's motives become clear Shutter Island is capable of more than it is letting on and someone needs to blow this out of the water.
DiCaprio at this stage of his career reminds me more and more of Martin Sheen during his peak runs in Badlands and Apocalypse Now. The struggle of his characters are internalized such a degree that he doesn't even know who he is anymore. The Departed was the greatest example of this, but with Shutter Island DiCaprio might have given his best performance yet. With this film and Inception out in July DiCaprio will definitely be nominated for Best Actor this year.
Robert Richardson, who previously shot Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds this past year turns in a solid effort in nailing the atmosphere of the film. A constant threat of being found out lurks around the Ashecliffe Institute and that fear is evoked in the audience thanks to Richardson's deft touch of shadowing and light.
Steven Spielberg has made several World War II films during his career, but his counterpart Scorsese has not. But in a roundabout way Shutter Island is his WWII piece. Men committ sometimes terrible atrocities during war and when they come back life isn't always the same. Not everyone comes home like Private Ryan did.
Shutter Island is masterfully crafted by Martin Scorsese. There are references to Hitchcock, Kubrick and old classic horror auteurs (even one of Scorsese's favs The Red Shoes). Never once does the film resort to loud scares just a slowly mounting tension that never lets you out of your chair. The cinematography, score and performances all round out the best film of the year so far.