Fox // 2008 // 89 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // July 15th, 2008
The most terrifying images are the ones that are real.
Driving down a dark road in Japan, newlyweds Jane (Rachael Taylor, Transformers) and Ben Shaw (Joshua Jackson, Urban Legend) are shocked when a woman walks in front of their car and is run down. After they crash, they go to look for the woman, but she is nowhere to be found.
Ben is a photographer, and suddenly, ghostly images start turning up in his photos. At first, he thinks there's something wrong with the camera, but they also appear in snapshots Jane takes. Jane and Ben visit an expert on this phenomenon, known as "spirit photography," but the Japanese-speaking mystic is of little help.
But help is what they need, as our photogenic spirit has started stepping out of the pictures and causing some real mayhem to Jane, Ben, and some of their acquaintances.
Shutter is yet another Asian horror film remade for American audiences. Like most of these Asian-to-American remakes -- such as Pulse, The Eye, and One Missed Call -- Shutter is a defiantly unexceptional and homogenized product. It features by-the-book performances from a couple of attractive actors who'd seem more at home on TV; supernatural scares that are telegraphed well in advance, often by music cues; and a "twist" ending that's a little more sophisticated than the usual twist endings found in these things but, unfortunately, requires a bit more than we get from the actors and direction in to make it work.
In real life -- well, paranormal-following real life -- there are those who believe that there exist photos in which the images of spirits have been captured. A number of spirit photographs have, naturally, been debunked, but not all. Some of these photos are obvious fakes, particularly the ones with, say, a demon or ghost front and center. With other photos, there are possible explanations, but no real disproof. The unnerving ones are those in which the apparition is more subtle, something caught in the background or the corner of the frame.
With a little imagination -- and a lot of suspension of disbelief -- this is the stuff of nightmares, the kind of uneasy creepiness that sneaks up on you, that keeps you awake on those dark and stormy nights.
Shutter doesn't give us those kinds of chills. It operates at two speeds: boring and bombastic. We don't catch the specter out of the corner of our eye; it is heralded with shrieking violins and jarring camera moves. When the violence occurs, it doesn't happen organically; it's more a feeling of, "We've done all we can with the streaky photos, time for some bloodletting." Said bloodletting is quite mild -- despite this being the "unrated" edition, the little bits of violence we get are strictly PG-13 style -- so if you're looking for gore, look elsewhere.
Then, of course, there's the twist ending, which is not bad as far as twist endings go. It has a nice Twilight Zone feel to it. However, for a twist like this to work, it needs to be hinted out throughout the film. Think about the films that have given us great twists. The fun isn't that we're surprised so much as that we were fooled, and when we watch the film again -- this time knowing the twist -- we want to smack ourselves for not seeing it, since all the clues were there.
The twist in Shutter doesn't work that way. It's just kind of tossed at us from out of nowhere. It's arrived at without logic or sense -- the key is a series of photos that no one was around to take and that weren't done on a timer. Whoops! Even ignoring that drive-a-fleet-of-armored-trucks-through-it gaffe, the ending does nothing to alter the perspective of what we'd seen earlier. Except for one obvious scene, there is nothing in the any of the performances or characterizations (as written and directed) to suggest that things are not as they seem.
Jackson and Taylor are equally bland and pretty and lack any sort of natural chemistry to help them overcome the by-the-numbers script by first-time feature writer Luke Dawson. The normally interesting John Hensley (Teeth) is given too little screen time and too little to do as one of Jackson's friends. Japanese Director Masayuki Ochiai makes his American feature debut by apparently tossing out everything he knows about J-horror and following the playbook of the various American imitators.
For a film that was barely released in theaters, Fox gives this one a very nice DVD package. We get a clear, clean image (as befits such a recent film) and a really fine 5.1 surround track. We also get a very nice slate of extras. The commentary, with Dawson, Taylor, and Production Executive Alex Sundell is decent, and your appreciation of it will be comparable to how much you like the film. Much better are the featurettes, which include interviews with the director and the writer; a look at why the film was shot in Japan; and a number of "fun" featurettes on the paranormal, spirit photography and ghost hunting.
Shutter should have made me shudder, but it didn't. Not subtle enough to be creepy, nor bloody enough to be a gore-fest, this one just ends up being forgettable.
Guilty of being yet another derivative remake.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentary with Production Executive Alex Sundell, Writer Luke Dawson, and Actress Rachael Taylor
* "A Ghost in the Lens"
* "A Cultural Divide: Shooting in Japan"
* "The Director: Masayuki Ochiai"
* "A Conversation with Luke Dawson"
* "A History of Spirit Photography"
* "Create Your Own Phantom Photo"
* "The Hunt for the Haunt: Tools and Tips for Ghost Hunting"
* Alternate and Deleted Scenes
* Spirit Photography from the American Ghost Society
* A Ghostly Gallery from the American Museum of Photography
* Official Site