Film Review: Shut In (dir by DJ Caruso)

Shut In is not a political movie.

It’s important to point that out because much of the online reaction to Shut In will be totally political.  That’s because it’s the second film to have been produced by The Daily Wire.  And yes, Ben Shapiro is listed as one of the film’s producers.  For many, it doesn’t matter that the film’s script appeared on The Black List of the best unproduced scripts in Hollywood.  (Of course, some notoriously terrible movies have been made out of the scripts that appeared on The Blacklist — remember Cedar Rapids? — so maybe it’d be best not to call too much attention to that.)  It won’t matter that the script was initially purchased by a major studio or that Jason Bateman (who is hardly a right-wing media figure) was originally set to direct it before the project was delayed by the pandemic.  All that will matter is that the film was produced by the Daily Wire and therefore, it will be judged as being some sort of political statement.

Indeed, when the film’s premiere was streamed on YouTube earlier tonight, I kept one eye on the movie and another eye on the chat comments.  About 80% of them were from people saying, “Let’s go Brandon!”  18% were from people saying, “Biden 2024 Harris 2028.”  And 2% of the comments were from some group of weirdoes who were obsessed with Liz Cheney.  The film itself might not be political but the film’s audience definitely was and probably will continue to be so.  I imagine most hardcore online liberals will automatically hate the film because of who produced it while most hardcore online conservatives will be tempted to overpraise it and cite it as proof that a good film can be made outside of the Hollywood system.  It’s tempting to say that’s just the way of the world nowadays but, to be honest, it’s really just the way of the extremely online world.  Most people won’t care one way or the other.  They’ll just view it as a being an effective thriller.

And, make not doubt about it, Shut In is not a bad film.  It’s an effectively tense thriller, one that has plenty of suspense and which makes good use of its limited budget.  If it’s never quite a great film, that’s because there’s a few pacing and plausibility issues, especially early on in the film.

Shut In stars Rainey Qualley as Jessica, a former dug addict who has escaped from her abusive ex and who is now trying to start a new life, with her young daughter and her newborn son, in an isolated farmhouse.  Unfortunately, when her ex, Rob (Jake Horowitz), and his scummy friend, Sammy (Indie film legend Vincent Gallo, making his first film appearance in ten years), show up at the house, Jessica ends up getting locked in the pantry while Rob and Sammy ransack the house and, most importantly, steal her phone so she can’t call for help.  Trapped in the pantry, Jessica tries to figure out a way to escape while also trying to instruct her young daughter on how to take care of her baby brother.  The whole time, of course, she’s aware that Sammy and Rob could return at any minute.

Director D.J. Caruso does a good job of building and maintaining tension throughout the film.  The majority of the film’s action takes place in that pantry and, just like Jessica, we find ourselves forced to try to interpret the sometimes random footsteps and snippets of conversation that we hear throughout the house.  Rainey Qualley, who is the daughter of Andie MacDowell and who has a Southern accent that is almost as prominent as her mother’s, is sympathetic in the role of Jessica and does a good job of playing up not only her fear but her strength.  Jessica is a survivor and it’s difficult not to admire her as she searches for a way to escape.  Vincent Gallo is older but still as uniquely photogenic as he was during his indie heyday.  He’s memorably creepy as Sammy.

As I said, it’s not a flawless film.  It takes a while for things to really get going and, towards the end of the film, a few of the characters behave in ways that defy logic.  One key moment depends on a character surviving something that, by all logic, should have easily killed them.  It may not be a political film but there are a few bits of heavy-handed religious symbolism, including an injury that deliberately calls to mind stigmata.  That said, when Jessica finally begins to fight back, it’s an enjoyably cathartic moment.

Shut In is an effective thriller and a determinedly non-political one.  If nothing else, it’ll keep you out of the pantry.

A Mystery “Unfolding”

I’m all for formalist experimentation — even for its own sake — but Kimball Anderson’s self-published mini Unfolding (which I think was released in the latter part of last year, but I could be wrong about that — in any case, that’s when I got it) is formalist experimentation with an added layer of purpose beyond “just” or “only” that tacked on : utilizing typed text and collage, it manages, in the space of just 12 pages, to interrogate the very nature of information-gathering and information-sharing on levels both practical and conceptual.

Consider : there is something about someone or something (or both) that’s written (whoops, typed, sorry) on a small piece of folded paper. As you slowly open it, you find out more, each outward unfolding offering up a fragment of a larger puzzle that is actually, all told, no puzzle at all. It only appears to be such due to the fragmented nature of the, to borrow a lame term, “reveal.” But what if said “reveal” was — errrmmm — revealed by other means?

Buckle up, because we’ve got to take things a couple steps further here, okay? Suppose the process I just laid out is actually reversed, and the slip of paper is being folded up, but is being read section by section as it’s folded, so that you’re well and truly learning more while seeing less — textually speaking, that is. On the other side of the paper, there’s an image, nominally related in some subtle way to what’s wri — typed! Caught myself that time! —and now suppose this process is being repeated four times over, with four different pieces of paper. Following me so far? Good, since we’re not quite done yet.

Now, further suppose that each of these paper scraps contains a discrete piece of information that tells a small “story” unto itself — but that all four descriptive passages are actually interconnected even though they’re separate. Starting to get the picture? I dearly hope so, because “getting the picture” is precisely what this innovative-yet-simple project is all about.

I’m also fully cognizant of the fact that I’m probably-to-definitely making the whole thing sound more convoluted than it really is, but perhaps the sample pages included with this review explain it all far better than my uncharacteristically (but then I would say that) linguistic fumbling is managing to accomplish. Language is a big part of what Anderson is experimenting with here (and by “a big part,” I mean half) — using it in fragmented form to draw attention to its shortcomings as a means of communication — but so are pictures, and while this may not be a traditional “comic” per se, its premise (by default and by design in fairly equal measure) teases out what comics do so well, which is to say : they convey information by means both verbal and visual. And by deconstructing the ability to do both in plain sight, this ‘zine gives readers a newfound appreciation for the inherent strengths and possibilities of illustrated sequential storytelling.

Are Anderson’s goals here ultimately — shudder! — ironic, then? Nah, I really don’t think so, I just think that there’s some “natural,” if you will, irony woven into the framework of the project’s metaphorical DNA. Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, and all that. In any case, this is a work that got me to thinking — about what it was, about what it was doing, and about how it was doing it. That’s more food for thought than you normally get out of 120 pages, let alone 12. Saying “highest possible recommendation” is a pretty formal note to end things on, admittedly, but hey, this is formalist stuff, so — if the shoe fits, right?


Unfolding is available for $5.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at

Also, this review is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to give it a look by directing your kind attention to

Sam Neill and Laura Dern return in the Jurassic World Dominion Trailer!

It looks like life found a way yet again to bring us another Jurassic World film. This time around, the dinosaurs appear to be out and everywhere on the planet. It’s like someone at Universal saw Mission Impossible: Fallout and said “How about we try all of that, but with Dinosaurs?!”

Motorcycle chases? Check, now with dinos.

Issues on a flight? Check, now with dinos.

I’ll admit though that I’m excited for this one. I’ve always wanted to see a Jurassic Park scenario where Dinosaurs reached the mainland, and The Lost World was possibly the closest we had there. It’s also cool to see that Blue (everyone’s favorite Raptor) has a little one of her own!

This third film brings back both Sam Neill and Laura Dern, reprising their roles as Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler. Jeff Goldblum and B.D. Wong are back as well with the Jurassic World cast, Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Isabella Sermon, Daniella Pineda, Justice Smith, and Omar Sy. Dichen Lachman (Netflix’s Altered Carbon) and Mamoudou Athie (Underwater) are new to the series.

Jurassic Park Dominion premieres in theatres June 10, with Colin Trevorrow returning as Director.

International Film Review: Into the Wind (dir by Kristofer Rus)

Ania (Sonia Mietielica) is the privileged daughter of a wealthy doctor.  She’s graduated from an exclusive high school in Warsaw and now, she’s about to start studying medicine in London.  The plan is that she’ll eventually take over her father’s medical practice and that she will, of course, marry someone from her upper class social circle.  Ania is haunted by the death of her artist mother and still struggles to get along with her stepmother (Sonia Bohosiewicz).

Michal (Jakub Sasak) is a handsome but poor athlete who works at the local beach resort.  At night, he’s a waiter.  During the day, he’s a kitesurfing instructor.  He may not have money or an education but he’s sensitive and artistic.  He likes good music, good weed, and hanging out good people.  He’s laid back but he cares about his friends and he’s got a romantic soul.

Together …. they solve crimes!

No, actually, they don’t.  There are no crimes to be solved in Into The Wind.  Instead, they meet when Ania accompanies her father, her stepmother, and her new baby brother to the resort for the summer.  While Ania listens to her father talk about how the pandemic has not really effected his practice (this is a 2022 film so, of course, there is talk of COVID in the background), Michal serves food and wine and is largely unseen by the other guests.  (The wait staff, as he explains it, is meant to be invisible.)  However, Ania sees him and he sees her.  And soon, they’re in love, they’re hanging out on the beach, they’re listening to music, and they’re kitesurfing!  But they’re also from two different worlds.  Ania’s father does not want his daughter to end up with a waiter.  And Michal’s friends are convinced that Ania will eventually return to her safe, upper class existence and Michal will be left heart-broken.

This Polish film is narratively predictable but visually stylish.  The plot should be familiar to anyone who has ever seen Dirty Dancing but then again, it’s not exactly as if Dirty Dancing was the most original film ever made.  That said, though the plot may be predictable, the film has enough lovely shots of the beach and the two leads have more than enough romantic chemistry to keep things watchable.  This is a good film to watch after a long and exhausting day, when you just want a simple story, a happy ending, and some nice pictures to go along with it.  Speaking for myself, as someone who spent last week dealing with below freezing temperatures and ice on the ground, the beach and the ocean looked very inviting and, for that matter, so did Jakub Sasak.  The beach and the cast are pretty and that’s pretty much all that a film like this really needs to work.

That said, I did really like the Kitesurfing scenes.  Kitesurfing is something that I personally would never do, seeing as how it would mean confronting not only my fear of drowning but also, potentially, my fear of heights but, even with that in mind, the film still made it a look like something that everyone should try at least once.  The scenes of people skimming across and occasionally floating above the water take on an almost religious grandeur as the surfer becomes onr with the forces of nature and fate.  Those scenes are exciting to watch, even if the story taking place around them is thoroughly predictable.

Artist Profile: Robert Oliver Skemp (1910 — 1984)

Born in Pennsylvania, Robert Oliver Skemp studied at the Art Students League of New York and also spent some time at the Grand Central Art School in New York.  He was also a member of the Merchant Marine, traveling across the world and no doubt picking up inspiration for the tough, two-fisted characters who would later appear in some of his artwork.

Most of Skemp’s career was spent in advertising but he was also a prolific pulp cover artist and portrait painter.  Here’s a small sampling of his paperback artistry: