Let’s just get this out of the way first: the trailer for the upcoming movie adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island scared me to death. I scare easily, though. I was never able to read The Shining by Stephen King, opting to toss the book under the bed after the first couple of pages instead. But having just read Lehane’s The Given Day and having been enamoured with his writing from this and from the films Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone, both adapted from his earlier novels, as well as his work writing episodes of what may be television’s finest series ever, The Wire, I gave Lehane the benefit of the doubt. I reasoned that should the book prove to be too scary for me, it could join The Shining under the bed. I’d also have time to adapt to my fright as I read, whereas Martin Scorsese seems to have amped up the terror from the word “go”. With this thought in mind, I started to read.
Shutter Island is, if nothing else, a page turner. Lehane tells the tale of a man named Teddy Daniels, a U.S. Marshal, and his partner, Chuck Aule, who investigate the disappearance of Rachel Solando, a multiple murderess who is being treated at the Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Against all odds, Rachel appears to have vanished into thin air, and while a hurricane bears down on the island, Teddy and Chuck search for her, in the process discovering that there is more than meets the eye on Shutter Island.
Teddy is convinced that the hospital is a cover for a program of radical experimentation, including “treatment” through horrific surgical procedures and terrifying drugs and he is determined to expose those responsible. But doing so means being able to leave Shutter Island, something that Teddy may be prohibited from ever doing.
Lehane writes a twisting, turning, frightening psychological thriller, filled with tension and heartbreaking trauma. It’s not unpredictable – I’d figured out most of the puzzle long before I reached the climax of the novel. But Lehane’s pace and language keeps the story from falling apart. As far as the illusion of terror goes, as with most book to film adaptations, it appears that the subtleties lie in the written work. Scorsese’s Shutter Island does not open in theatres until February 19, 2010, so this analysis may be premature, but judging solely from a visceral reaction, the film appears more frightening than the book turns out to be. Or maybe it’s just a different kind of scary, the kind that you can’t just close your eyes and escape.