“Shutter Island” is a twisty-turny-moody psychological thriller from Director Martin Scorsese that follows Edward “Teddy" Daniels, a troubled U.S. Marshal played by Leonardo DiCaprio as he investigates a mysterious disappearance of one female patient at the Shutter Island insane asylum.
The overarching plot of “Shutter Island” is really the story of a decades’s old problem within the psychiatric community of how to treat the violent and criminally insane. In the 50s, mental patients were hardly afforded basic civil rights and were often subjected to grotesque testing and inhumane conditions. Teddy, having received intel that there was something amiss going on at Shutter Island jumped at the chance to investigate the missing patient with his partner “Chuck Aule” played by Mark Ruffalo.
Almost immediately after Teddy and Chuck arrive to Shutter Island’s shore, they’re treated with hostility by the guards. Teddy’s attempts to investigate the missing patient are blocked at every turn and the staff’s behavior toward him ranges from flippant to downright aggressive.
We begin to experience triggers with Teddy that evoke memories of his time as a WWII soldier. Teddy feels immense guilt having participated in a war crime by shooting Nazi soldiers that had already surrendered. We also begin to experience vivid visions of Teddy’s wife played by actress Michelle Williams. These visions are tangible, moody and romantic yet ominous. And, they’re carried out over the deeply-emotional orchestral version of “On The Nature of Daylight,” a song by Max Richter. In some moments Teddy’s wife is imploring him to let mentally let her go, and in others she warns him of the immense danger he’s in after arriving to Shutter Island. Teddy is hurting and Teddy is in danger, but of what exactly we don’t know.
“Shutter Island” is truly a masterful film about perception and it’s a film designed to be viewed multiple times because neither the main protagonist nor the viewer can trust their perceived realities. As a viewer, we are at the mercy of following the breadcrumbs to the end of the story where we discover that nothing was ever what it seemed. This method of storytelling is so gripping and so it’s understandable that after watching a film like “Shutter Island” you could be eager to view more films that provide a similar experience. Here are seven more movies like “Shutter Island” that will make you question everything.
“Enemy” is a psychological thriller by director Denis Villeneuve starring Jake Gyllenhall. Gyllenhall plays, Adam Bell, a college professor whose life is turned upside down when he rents a movie called “Where There’s a Will There’s a Way.” While watching the movie Adam discovers that one of the actors looks just.like.him. Adam then becomes obsessed with tracking down his doppelgänger who goes by “Anthony Claire.” When they meet, Adam finds that Anthony is identical to him in every way, except for Anthony has a more brash and direct personality than Adam. What follows is a tangled-weave of mistaken identity and Adam fighting to keep his life intact while Anthony appears to want to dismantle it.
“Enemy” makes our list of movies like “Shutter Island” because at its core it’s a story about how powerful guilt can be and the lengths a person will go to in order to escape it.
2. “Mulholland Drive”
“Mulholland Drive’” is a 2001 Neo-Noir Mystery Film directed by David Lynch and starring Naomi Watts as Betty Elms, an aspiring actress. Like “Shutter Island” and “Enemy,” the core premise of “Mulholland Drive” is escapism and guilt. The other common thread is a crisis of identity in the main protagonist.
In “Shutter Island” Teddy (Leonardo DiCaprio) appears to be the only character struggling to come to terms with his past. But, in “Mulholland Drive” we see through Betty’s perspective that several of the characters in the core plot and subplot are struggling with their identities. Some are figuratively coming to terms with who they are and some literally.
Betty’s journey as a budding Hollywood starlet feels surreal. Betty lacks character depth and everyone she comes into contact with is just strange. But that’s Hollywood for ya, right? Or, is Betty’s perspective unreliable?
“Mulholland Drive” makes the viewer question what lengths they’ll go to cope with a life that doesn’t meet their expectations.
3. “Secret Window”
“Secret Window” is a 2004 Stephen King film directed by David Koepp and starring Johnny Depp. Depp plays Mort Rainey, a writer struggling from writer’s block and on a more serious note, his wife’s infidelity. Mort escapes to his cabin at Tashmore Lake in upstate New York to attempt to finish his latest novel. While there, we find that Mort has an unethical past as a writer and that past shows up at his doorstep in the form of John Shooter played by John Turturro. We learn that Shooter wrote a story called “Sewing Season” and it’s almost identical to Mort’s published work, “Secret Window.”
The way the story unfolds we want to take Mort’s side, he’s had a rough few months and frankly, Shooter is creepy and persistent. But, we learn through their discussions that Depp has plagiarized other people’s work before.
We have incredible empathy toward Mort. He’s made mistakes in the past and he’s in a bad place emotionally, but we don’t know if we can really trust him. Mort lies. We’ve seen him lie to others. Is he lying to us too? Like “Shutter Island,” “Secret Window” features the main protagonist trying to come to terms with his past while navigating a tumultuous present.
4. “Dream House”
“Dream House” is a 2011 psychological thriller from Jim Sheridan that stars Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, and Naomi Watts. “Dream House” makes the list of movies like “Shutter Island” as it employs many of the same incorporates many of the same plot devices. Like “Secret Window” our main protagonist, Will Atenton, is a writer. After experiencing a bout of writer’s block he, his wife Libby (Rachel Weisz) and two kids escape to their dream home in upstate New York.
Life is good for a short time until Will and his family begin experiencing strange occurrences around their home. In search of answers, Will approaches their neighbor Ann (Naomi Watts) for information. Will is met with hostility by Ann but proceeds to investigate further and learns that the previous owner of their home Peter Ward killed his family in their home.
Like Teddy in “Shutter Island,” Will throws himself into solving the mystery before him but his journey to the truth only becomes more convoluted as the story unfolds.
“Predestination” joins our list of movies like “Shutter Island” as an intensely intriguing sci-fi film full of time jumping and brain-teasing.
Ethan Hawke plays “Agent Doe” and his character works for a time-traveling agency that prevents catastrophes. Although there are so many compelling and entrancing differences between “Predestination” and “Shutter Island,” the core message still feels like a story born out of an intense struggle with one's identity. In fact, all of the characters introduced to us have incredibly interesting backstories which is rare for a sci-fi film.
“Predestination” is more than just the average sci-fi film. It receives rave reviews from critics and moviegoers alike with praise for everything from a unique storyline, to incredible acting and breakout performances.
6. “Fight Club”
“Fight Club” is a cult classic film based on the novel “Fight Club” by Chuck Palahniuk. The story follows an intensely depressed and nameless main character played by Edward Norton who attends survivor meetings because they make him feel better about his life.
Further into the film, the protagonist is introduced to Tyler Durden, played by Brad Pitt and is thrust into an underground world of brutally cathartic fight club and anti-capitalism terrorism.
“Fight Club” differs from “Shutter Island” in that the audience isn’t deciphering a mystery through the main character’s perspective. Instead, we’re taken on a wild ride with a main character who has very few redeemable characteristics. And, when we get off the ride we’re left with a gnarly case of whiplash.
“Coherence” is a low-budget indie sci-fi thriller that carries out an intricate and gripping plot against a simplistic backdrop. If “Shutter Island” is a story about an identity crisis then “Coherence” is about identity crisis on steroids.
When “Coherence” opens, we’re introduced to a group of eight friends who’ve reunited over a dinner party. We see early on that there are a number of cracks within the group. We’re privy to passive-aggressive behavior between friends and couples that just don’t seem to be on the same page. Beyond awkward banter over drinks, nothing appears to be amiss until the power goes out.
The group learns that the power outage was actually due to a comet passing overhead. Unbeknownst to them, the comet left in its wake a convoluted web of alternate realities and the ultimate mystery of who’s who.