Film Review – Shattered
Nothing good ever happens after midnight. At least that’s what the protagonist of the psychosexual thriller Shattered (2021) should have been thinking. You know you’re in trouble when you run into a beautiful woman at the grocery store soaked from rain asking – in too friendly a way – for wine suggestions. That should have been the first red flag. The next warning comes when their ride doesn’t pick them up and they’re all too eager to hop into your car for a trip across town. Wait a minute, why are you offering a stranger a ride in the first place? Who’s the real creep in this scenario?
Director Luis Prieto and writer David Loughery design the narrative as a direct descendent of thrillers where characters think more with their loins than with their brains. Deep inside its recesses are homages to the likes of Basic Instinct (1992) and Fatal Attraction (1987). But the differences between those and this latest effort is a lack of conviction. The aforementioned films embraced their sleaziness, jumping headfirst into the sex and violence with effective craftsmanship and performance. Shattered wobbles between serious and exaggerated, unsure of whether it’s exploring legitimate sociopolitical themes or being a trashy genre piece. If a story chooses to be lurid and erotic, then it’s better to go all the way with it.
Chris (Cameron Monaghan) is a wealthy tech wiz who lives in a fancy home perched above town. He is on the verge of divorcing his wife Jamie (Sasha Luss) and separating from his daughter Willow (Ridley Asha Bateman). Trying to fill his hours of loneliness, Chris routinely heads to the supermarket late at night to buy ice cream (of all things). It’s during one of these outings where Chris meets Sky (Lilly Krug). Sky lives with a clingy roommate (Ash Santos) in a shabby motel run by a creepy landlord (John Malkovich). Immediately, Chris and Sky are drawn to each other and are soon sharing their private bits in the comfort of Chris’ bedroom.
What happens next is a survival tale in which Chris finds himself regretting ever having met Sky. This is where the weakness of the writing shows up. In a movie that relies heavily on its twists, character choices must make some sort of reasonable sense. The decisions Chris and Sky make defy all rationale. The writing is not strong enough for us to believe that the two would ever hook up, let alone fall for one another. As a result, Monaghan and Krug’s performances suffer. This is not their fault, as they are burdened with roles that ignore common logic. It’s only until the second half – when the action picks up and the blood starts to spill – that their performances start to gel, but that’s because they are tasked with being more physically over the top. The nuance that is needed to make Chris and Sky believable people is not there.
Through a mounting set of injuries, Chris spends much of the runtime confined to a wheelchair with a cast on his leg. Astute viewers will recognize the call back to Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954). The connection is further exemplified through the running motif of cameras and recording devices – such as the telescope Malkovich’s character peers through during a key scene, or the many security cameras placed around Chris’ home. Prieto (with cinematographer Juan Miguel Azpiroz) even recreates Grace Kelly’s famous close-up shot. But what does this all lead up to? The camerawork and editing may be sleek and stylish, but it doesn’t amount to much when you have characters that don’t act like real people. What exactly are we supposed to make of Sky? She has no deeper background; she is simply the embodiment of evil.
The production does not skimp out on the sex and violence – there is plenty of both offered here. But what it does miss out on is a sense of glee. Chris and Sky are not that much fun to hang around with, even though the material begs for them to let loose. Luckily, John Malkovich and Frank Grillo make the most of their limited opportunities to chew up scenery. They are the only two who understand the absurdity of the story and run with it as best as they can. Notice how Malkovich tries to offer comfort to Sky’s roommate only for it to hilariously backfire. The laughs continue when Grillo – as a swaggering bad guy – tries to pass off a morality speech on wealth distribution when he himself is a petty thief. Malkovich and Grillo’s performances are the film’s few saving graces.
Shattered might work as a passing curiosity for fans of the genre, but be warned: this isn’t as naughty as you may think it is. It’s advertised as a trashy good time but comes up short in just about every aspect. By the end we think to ourselves, “Couldn’t he have just bought the ice cream and walked away?”