Since his Oscar-winning The Departed (2006) the man who can perhaps lay claim to being America’s greatest living director, has been going a little ‘experimental’, with a documentary on The Rolling Stones, Shine A Light (2008) and a Spanish short, The Key To Reserva (2007) his only cinematic output.
Now, for his return to feature-length fiction, he submits his first out-and-out ‘horror-thriller’ since Cape Fear (1991), but the result is unfortunately far inferior to the De Niro-starring rollercoaster. We’re in 1954, on an island off the coast of New England that is home to a great gothic-horror staple, namely a mental institution for the criminally insane.
In fact it’s only the country’s most dangerous lunatics that are given ‘three hots and a cot’ here, and US Marshal Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) and new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) arrive to investigate the disappearance of one of the patients. And they learn, and right quickly, that there are evil deeds are afoot…
Scorsese is presumably so happy to be working in the horror genre that he feels his enthusiasm must be shared from the outset, with the result that the opening 15 minutes is a pastiche, with overbearingly ‘ominous’ music and cheesy dialogue to accompany the archetypal visual excesses (think heavy mists, dank and dark dungeons, and so on) that have been a trademark of this kind of film since Hammer.
Our men meet head psychiatrist, Dr Cawley (Kingsley) and Dr Naehring (Max Von Sydow) and, from this point onwards, Daniels commits to his quest but is clueless as to exactly what he is dealing with, and the audience is along for the ride.
All well and good, to a certain extent, and the film’s last half-hour is genuinely thrilling, but a sense of unevenness nevertheless plagues proceedings, with Kingsley and Von Sydow’s intelligent performances seeming to have wandered in from an entirely different kind of film, and feel distinctly at odds with DiCaprio’s trite, stilted turn.
Don’t get me wrong – by normal US standards, this would have been cause for celebration but, from Scorsese, it leaves a small but noticeable pang for what might have been.