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Edge of Your Seat: The Art of Horror #1

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Edge of Your Seat: The Art of Horror #1

The movie poster for Shutter Island. Will you watch it?

The movie poster for Shutter Island. Will you watch it?

Copyright Paramount Pictures 2010

The movie poster for Shutter Island. Will you watch it?

Copyright Paramount Pictures 2010

Copyright Paramount Pictures 2010

The movie poster for Shutter Island. Will you watch it?

Tucker Price, Staff Writer

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As far as human emotions go, fright is the most complex. While sadness and joy are similarly experienced by all individuals, fright is triggered and felt in different ways. Though joy and sadness exemplify a specific feeling, fear describes an entire spectrum of emotion. For example, one might be scared during a quick, or sharp instance of surprise, such as a friend coming up behind you and suddenly tapping you on the shoulder, or a response to a strong sense of unease, like the anticipation of a friend tapping you on the shoulder when they actually don’t, or seeing something disturbing that haunts you for the rest of the day. Horror movies attempt to do something extremely complicated: break down these emotions to their essence and make you feel them, which is no easy feat. This series of articles is meant to be a celebration of those pieces of filmography that successfully make you feel the complex emotion of fear. These articles will contain in-depth analysis as well as spoilers, so be warned.

Shutter Island is a psychological film by Martin Scorsese, and is probably my favorite horror movie of all time. The film follows detectives Teddy Daniels, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and Chuck Aule, played by Mark Ruffalo, as they investigate a missing persons case at a mental asylum called Shutter Island. While investigating, they become trapped on the island as a result of an impending hurricane. Eventually, Teddy finds that things aren’t as they seem in the asylum, and begins to investigate the asylum itself, hoping to find that the asylum is performing experiments on its inmates.                                                                              

As I mentioned before, this film is a psychological horror, meaning that it focuses less on jump scares or gore, and more on the fears that inherently lie in our own minds. It does this successfully, even within the basic plot of the film. People are afraid of what they don’t understand- for instance, most mental illnesses. Throughout the film, various instances of mental illness are shown, and usually the people who have these illnesses, when interviewed, start off talking like healthy people. As the conversations develop, however, you begin to find out that there is something wrong with these people, as they start acting unnaturally, or talk erratically about topics that would not normally come up in conversation. This paints these people as untrustworthy, creating a sense of unease in the viewer throughout the film. While not necessarily an accurate representation of mental illness, it works as an incredibly effective foundation of both tone and tension, which is the basis of good horror.

Another way that a filmmaker might choose to build tension or unease throughout a film is through the way it is shot. Scorsese does this in an interesting way. While most films rely on what is left unseen, Scorsese chooses to rely on what may be found in plain sight through the manipulation of film. Throughout Shutter Island you may notice inconsistencies between shots: Someone may pick up a glass in one shot, and in the next shot it just won’t be in their hand, or perhaps a shot might be reversed for seemingly no reason. These shots do have purpose, in fact; they build much needed tension. When an audience member sees these shots, they feel a feeling only described in layman’s terms as “weird”. Again, a feeling of unease sweeps the audience. Such is the genius of Shutter Island; every element is specifically designed to make one feel uncomfortable – from the beginning until the unfortunate conclusion.

Everything in the film leads up to one moment. As mentioned before, the film’s plot is based upon the investigation of the asylum, so of course the logical conclusion would be when the questions of  the protagonist are finally answered, and they are – just not in the way you might think. Teddy eventually makes his way to a lighthouse, which he believes holds the secret behind everything happening in the asylum. When he reaches the lighthouse, however, he only finds the head psychiatrist in an empty room. Of course, confusion ensues for both the protagonist and audience. It is then revealed that Teddy is in fact crazy, and that he killed his wife after she murdered their children. After this reveal, an emotional scene occurs where Teddy suffers intense grief for both his children and his wife. For the audience, everything begins to make sense: the way the inmates and staff of the asylum talk to him, the way the shots were slightly off. All tension built from previous moments in the film releases like an arrow flying from a bow. Teddy is left with a choice: accept his crimes and stop his delusions of being a detective, or ignore what he has done and undergo a lobotomy. The choice he makes is to ignore everything, or so it seems. Before he is taken back into the asylum for his lobotomy, he asks his partner one final question: “Which would be worse: to live as a monster or to die as a good man?” After this last line of dialogue, the movie ends.

After this ending the audience is left defeated. They go home in silence, thinking intensely about what happened.This leads to the last element that makes good horror, or even a good story in general: a lasting effect. The audience thinks of this ending for days on end, even questioning elements of their own life. Upon a second viewing, the movie is almost scarier, as you are able to see how everything fits in with the knowledge you have from your first viewing.

So there you have it. Shutter Island is an almost perfect example of masterful filmmaking as well as good horror, and is sure to leave you on the edge of your seat. Check in next time for an example of horror in an entirely different format: video games.

About the Writer
Tucker Price, Staff Writer

Tucker is a junior first-year staff member. He was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, then moved to Cary in 2013, and is an active member of the Green...

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