Shutter (United States, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The Asian horror remake subgenre has gone through all the stages of bread: at first, it was a fresh alternative to generic American horror then, as more product came out of the cinematic oven, it grew increasingly stale. Now, it's rock hard and moldy, yet the movies keep coming, as if an assembly line has been started and no one knows how to turn it off. Even fans have grown tired of them. Yet these films have generated a different kind of fear than what's intended: fear of having to sit through another such production. Please, make them stop!

The original Shutter is a Thai film, not a Japanese or Korean concoction, but there's nothing to differentiate it from all the other movies where spirits have pasty faces and fail to recognize the value of the slogan "rest in peace." Ghost stories are to the 2000s what slasher films were to the 1980s. There are only so many interesting ideas one can apply and, after a while, they all seem the same. What makes it worse with Asian horror is that most of these are re-makes of somewhat better foreign language entries, so they literally are the same (except for the obligatory changes necessary to create a comfort level among Western audiences). If a viewer wanted to argue that Shutter was the worst of all those to reach the market so far, I would have a hard time countering him. For a good clue to the quality level contained herein, take the title of the movie and replace the "u" with an "i."

Shutter is another "ghost in the machine" story, except this time the machine is a camera. The movie has difficulty coping with the fact that most photography is now done digitally, so it cheats when necessary. The ghosts don't care whether the picture is being taken using old-fashioned cameras or new technology and, as a bonus, they don't need airbrushing. Newly married Americans Ben and Jane Shaw (Joshua Jackson and Rachael Taylor) are honeymooning in Tokyo, where they plan to take up permanent residence. While driving down a dark, unfamiliar road at night, Jane takes her eyes off the road long enough to run over a woman who appears out of nowhere. Afterward, there's no sign of a body, but strange things start happening to the couple. Ghostly apparitions appear in their vacation photographs and Jane has visions of the woman she believes she killed. Meanwhile, Ben, who ain't afraid of no ghosts, tries to reason with his wife until he has a very personal encounter with the dead woman in his dark room.

Shutter possesses one of those scripts that changes the rules every few moments to conform with whatever new twist it wants to throw into the proceedings. Not only doesn't the movie hold together in retrospect, but the holes are apparent while it's simultaneously unspooling and unraveling. The movie is so intent upon misdirection that it ceases to make sense pretty early. After that, it's a long, tedious slog through more than an hour of familiar ghost story material to get to the lobotomized climax and the merciful arrival of the end credits. If there's one thing that sets Shutter apart from its many cinematic cousins, it's how poorly realized this movie is. There's not even a pretense of intelligence or sophistication. If any picture can be said to deserve the label "hack job," this is it.

Illustrating that the last stop before obscurity of a once "hot" actor is an Asian horror remake, Joshua Jackson shows up here as the lead. He is supported by Rachael Taylor, who I guess was in last year's Transformers, although the only woman I remember from that movie is Megan Fox. Despite some "cute" PG-13 sex scenes, these two leads display about as much chemistry as acting ability. Taylor's over-the-top reaction when Jane sees an apparition is giggle-inducing, and that's not the only instance when titters will be heard. Those in search of a cheap scare will be disappointed; the few "boo!" moments attempted by Japanese director Masayuki Ochiai are weakly executed. It's like seeing someone who's going to jump out and scare you five seconds before he makes the attempt. If he's feeling generous, Ochiai can share the credit for these failures with his editor and cinematographer.

Asian horror remakes are typically not screened for critics, and Shutter is no exception. The studios know what they have: watered-down, lifeless shells of motion pictures devoid of characters, drama, or anything remotely resembling horror. The PG-13 rating, while opening the gates to bored teenagers, will turn hardcore horror aficionados in the other direction. The novelty of these low-gore ghost stories has long since worn off and audiences no longer care. It's time for this critic to realize that the time has come to give up on the subgenre and leave the viewing of these disappointments to those few hearty souls who still care.

Shutter (United States, 2008)

Director: Masayuki Ochiai
Cast: Joshua Jackson, Rachael Taylor, Megumi Okina, David Denman, John Hensley, Maya Hazen
Screenplay: Luke Dawson
Cinematography: Katsumi Yanagishima
Music: Nathan Barr
U.S. Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Run Time: 1:25
U.S. Release Date: 2008-03-21
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1