Back in August, The Daily Wire announced that they had wrapped production on their first original film, Shut In, a thriller from Disturbia director DJ Caruso. It was intriguing because while Shut In appears to be a straightforward thriller from an established director, The Daily Wire is the right wing media company co-founded by reactionary dorklet Ben Shapiro, whose nasal drone can be heard blaring from speakers all across the nation, railing against woke-nized Disney cartoons that he can hardly bear to jack off to anymore or whatever.
Of their movie offerings, Shapiro’s partner Jeremy Boreing assured Deadline in January of last year, “We will make great entertainment that all Americans can enjoy, regardless of their political views.”
Of course, he said this in the same breath as “If you’re fed-up with the cultural edicts of our country’s self-appointed moral overlords in Hollywood and legacy media, stay tuned,” and this convoluted, we’re-going-to-remain-apolitical-to-own-the-libs approach seems to define Shut In, a politically apolitical thriller at war with itself and appealing to no one.
Shut In stars Rainey Qualley — sister of The Leftovers star Margaret Qualley, daughter of Andie MacDowell, and a pop singer performing under the name Rainsford — and Vincent Gallo, an experimental director perhaps best known for shooting an unsimulated oral sex scene with Chloe Sevigny in Brown Bunny. Watching a movie starring a second-generation celebrity and the bad boy of 90s auteurism seemed like a weird way to stick it to Hollyweird, but at least it was a combination strange enough to be intriguing. I reached out for a screener via the email that kept sending me the Daily Wire’s press releases, but never received a response. Attempting to watch it the non-industry insider way, I went directly to the DailyWire site, where I was forced to click the “stand with us” button under a giant banner image of scowling nerds.
I narrowly avoided spending $144 on this movie, having to go back a page to toggle a slider to be billed “weekly” rather than “yearly.” In so doing, I missed out on a golden opportunity to own a truly iconic “leftist tears” tumbler.
If my goal had been to avoid having politics shoved down my throat like Jeremy Boreing claimed, so far it was going terribly.
As the movie begins, it becomes clear that, whatever else you might say about DJ Caruso, veteran director of xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage, I Am Number Four, Eagle Eye, Disturbia, and a legitimate favorite of mine, The Salton Sea, he does have a visual style. Which gives Shut In the flavor of a real Hollywood production, distinctly lacking the flat lighting and corny compositions that characterize your typical faith-based films, which are probably shot by someone who cut their teeth staging megachurch live shows.
The story, by first-time screenwriter Melanie Toast (whose name I can’t read without laughing) follows Jessica (Qualley), a struggling single mom in a skimpy tank top (Dear Penthouse…) who is newly sober and living in a rustic farmhouse she’s just inherited from her mother. She’s living there with her infant son and fantastically unhelpful daughter (this will become important later), Lainey, whose name Qualley will bellow throughout the film, really utilizing those pop music pipes. In fact, lots of this movie consists of characters operatically narrating their own actions. It’s a perfect movie for the blind.
Lainey, clearly drawn from the M. Night Shyamalan school of obnoxious children, spends most of her time collecting apples. She fills her pails with them, emptying them onto a great pile inside, where meemaw used to make apple butter. “Lainey, these apples are rotten,” Jessica tells her, over the fourth or fifth straight close-up of a rotten apple. Uh oh, my metaphor sense is tingling!
Soon Jessica manages to accidentally lock herself inside the pantry, and after about 10 straight minutes of Jessica inside, it started to dawn on me what I was watching: a good old-fashioned single-location thriller. That’s right, given the opportunity to finally stick it to those phony moralists in Hollywood, The Daily Wire’s first play was to finance a poor man’s 127 Hours or Buried (which already sucked). Did Hollywood really need help releasing middling thrillers in February?
Jessica spends the next 57 minutes of screen time inside the pantry. Meanwhile, her ex-husband (Jake Horowitz) shows up, accompanied by his meth buddy, a convicted child molester played by Vincent Gallo. At first, her ex-husband helps her, but soon they get in a fight and he puts her back in the pantry, nailing it shut for good measure. One of the nails goes through Jessica’s hand, and she looks down at her bloody hand, and then up at the crucifix nailed above the door, just to make sure we catch the symbolism. She also has a Bible in there with her.
Throughout the film, Shut In makes these overt Biblical allusions. Yet Christianity seems helpful only in the most utilitarian sense. Does Jessica escape by finding a higher power, learning to turn the other cheek, do unto others, etc? Nope, she uses the literal crucifix as a digging implement and finds hundred-dollar bills in the pages of the Bible. Shut In is almost as weird as it is incredibly boring.
Throughout, Jessica does utterly inexplicable things. When Vincent Gallo shows back up at the house, she tricks him into putting his hand under the door and then jams a screwdriver through his palm (Biblical reference??) and into the floor. Which pins him there, and herself next to a child molester for the foreseeable future. Later she sets him on fire. Which is to say, she sets the door of the wooden pantry she’s currently locked in on fire. Seems like a bad idea! Was it not Jesus who said “thou shalt not set fire to thine own highly flammable dwelling while locked inside of it, you moron?”
She manages to put out the fire after burning Vincent Gallo without torching the entire house with her and her kids inside it, which somehow also doesn’t weaken the wooden door any. Shut In is nothing if not logically inconsistent. Jessica first tries to dig under the floor (doesn’t the DOOR still seem like the path of least resistance here??) and finally manages to escape through the ceiling. In one shot she can barely reach the floor of the second story with her fingertips while standing on her tiptoes, and in the very next shot she has her entire torso through it with no explanation in between.
All the while she eats lots of apple butter. At one point, she reads an apparently meaningful Bible verse:
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.”
So… are the false prophets wolves or fruit trees? They’re wolves… dressed as sheep… who also carry fruit? Apparently, there were no Biblical prohibitions on mixed metaphors. And as it applies to this movie: is it the child molester played by Vincent Gallo that is the bad fruit? Is the ex-husband the wolf, and Vincent Gallo the child molester is the fruit he bears with him? Or is the actual fruit tree that bears bad fruit the bad fruit? WHAT IS IT WITH YOU AND FRUIT?!
All of which is to say that Shut In is boring, inconsistent, imbued with some kind of inscrutable code, and above all lazy, a perfect reflection of the rightwing media ecosystem. Ben Shapiro doesn’t even have the creativity to be truly insane, like the Infowars people, he’s more like an annoyingly persistent hall monitor, recycling the kind of dull schoolmarming that’s remained mostly unchanged since the first Bush era. Which is probably part of what makes Shut In so boring — it doesn’t take any interesting swings.
Jessica gets out, she finds her children safe (her daughter included, despite remaining absent and silent for 20-25 minutes of screentime at a clip, even when there’s a shrieking child molester being burned alive downstairs), and eventually her husband comes back. He tries to force Jessica to do meth at gunpoint — DJ Caruso seems to have forgotten everything he knew about meth users in the years since The Salton Sea — but she tricks him with her feminine wiles and pushes him out a window. Finally, I thought, this 89 minute movie that somehow feels 10 hours long is almost over.
There was still just enough time left for a parting shot of meemaw’s apple butter recipe:
In case you can’t read that, it’s a note about how you can just cut the bad parts out of the apples and use the good parts. “Not many people know this secret, but these apples make the best apple butter.”
It’s a suitably confounding ending, thanks to the sheer variety of apple-related symbolism. Are the apples like Eve’s apple? Are the bad apples like when a cop shoots someone and the police spokesman comes on and says he was just a “bad apple?” Are they saying that a bad apple doesn’t spoil the bunch? Will the apple butter keep the doctor away? What the FUCK is this stupid movie even trying to say about god damned apples? Did the heroic ex-meth addict mother successfully cut the bad parts out of herself and keep the good while avoiding government assistance (with the help of her magic money Bible)?
Honestly, I think trying to find a message here would be putting more thought into this than anyone involved ever did. It feels more like they were spinning plates and spitting out freighted jargon just long enough for the checks to clear.