A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
"Shutter Island" starts working on us with the first musical notes under the Paramount logo's mountain, even before the film starts. They're ominous and doomy. So is the film. This is Martin Scorsese's evocation of the delicious shuddering fear we feel when horror movies are about something and don't release all the tension with action scenes.
In its own way it's a haunted house movie, or make that a haunted castle or fortress. Shutter Island, we're told, is a remote and craggy island off Boston, where a Civil War-era fort has been adapted as a prison for the criminally insane. We approach it by boat through lowering skies, and the feeling is something like the approach to King Kong's island: Looming in gloom from the sea, it fills the visitor with dread. To this island travel U.S. marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo).
It's 1954, and they are assigned to investigate the disappearance of a child murderer (Emily Mortimer). There seems to be no way to leave the island alive. The disappearance of one prisoner might not require the presence of two marshals unfamiliar with the situation, but we never ask that question. Not after the ominous walls of the prison arise. Not after the visitors are shown into the office of the prison medical director, Dr. Cawley, played by Ben Kingsley with that forbidding charm he has mastered.
It's clear that Teddy has no idea what he's getting himself into. Teddy -- such an innocuous name in such a gothic setting. Scorsese, working from a novel by Dennis Lehane, seems to be telling a simple enough story here; the woman is missing, and Teddy and Chuck will look for her. But the cold, gray walls clamp in on them, and the offices of Cawley and his colleagues, furnished for the Civil War commanding officers, seem borrowed from a tale by Edgar Allan Poe.