You know there is some kind of lunacy in Martin Scorsese taking on a horror movie.
Based on Dennis Lehane's thriller, Shutter Island is a blank canvas, and the famed director let loose seemingly every movie trick he knows. Considering that he is an astute student of cinema, that's a lot.
Invoking Hitchcock in a film set in a mental hospital for the criminally insane in 1954 goes without saying. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Teddy Daniels, a U.S. marshal who ferries out to the island to investigate the disappearance of a patient.
The poor guy already is haunted by memories of his wife (Michelle Williams), who died in a fire in their apartment building, and by the trauma of being among those who liberated the concentration camp Dachau in World War II.
Now he has to come face to face with some really creepy patients, who range from zombielike to raging maniacs, and the creepy doctors — Ben Kingsley as the menacing Dr. Cawley, the psychiatrist in charge, and Max von Sydow, whose German accent reminds Teddy of the terrors of war. Things get creepier as the mystery deepens. How could a woman just disappear from her cell? Then there are hints of Nazi-type experimentation. And why is the weather so bad?
But who's watching Shutter Island for the plot?
Robert Richardson, the director of photography, makes everything appear ominous, as if it were in a nightmare. The colors are disquieting.
The film is populated with terrific actors — Emily Mortimer, Jackie Earle Haley, Patricia Clarkson, Mark Ruffalo — and the scenes are intricately choreographed. No one will pretend that this is one of Scorsese's great films, but it's not a failure, either. It's just an interesting commercial detour.
Shutter Island retails for $29.99, or $39.99 on Blu-ray.