Fox // 2008 // 89 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // July 18th, 2008
The most terrifying images are the ones that are real.
"You saw her, didn't you?"
Ben (Joshua Jackson, Bobby) and Jane (Rachael Taylor, Transformers) have just gotten married. They are oh-so-happy, as most couples who have just gotten married are. They're driving to their honeymoon destination in Japan, and a terrible tragedy occurs. Ben and Jane hit a girl standing in the middle of the road. They're both horrified, and run out to see if the girl is still alive. Strangely, she isn't even there anymore. Surely she wasn't in any condition to run off that quickly? Both are puzzled and a little bit shaken, but they try to remove the event from their minds and move on with their trip.
Ben is a photographer, and he's going to get a little bit of work done on the honeymoon. He starts taking pictures, obviously. The only problem is, something is wrong with the finished product. The pictures feature appearances by the ghostly spirits of a young woman. This, like the car accident, is dismissed as a strange and unexplainable occurrence. However, the spirit keeps appearing, and soon it becomes evident that the spirit isn't very friendly. Jane's suspicions are aroused, and she begins to wonder whether Ben has a deep dark secret that he's not telling her about.
I've always been amused by the fact that horror movies frequently star very happy and content people. Frequently, you'll find a scene at the beginning of a horror movie featuring a couple snuggling and laughing, someone having a good time with some friends, or a family playing games together. Then, inevitably, something terrible happens, and we're supposed to look on in shock and horror as these nice people are dragged into some sort of abyss. On the other hand, comedies often open with depressed or stressed-out people who have to learn to participate in a dance scene starring the entire cast by the film's conclusion. Most curious, methinks.
This movie is most assuredly in the former category, and begins with a scene of two happy people. Then something bad happens, the two people slowly recover, and the cycle is repeated. There's another happy scene, followed by another freaky event. As the film progresses, the lead characters grow unhappier, the events grow freakier, and soon the scales have been completely tipped. It's not a new idea, but I suppose it could have worked if only these scenes could have been played with a little more conviction. The happy scenes feel so very artificial, cheesy PG-13 lovemaking scenes set to light pop music that haven't the faintest whiff of reality about them. Meanwhile, the horror scenes busy themselves recycling all kinds of modern horror cliches. Would we even know these scenes were supposed to be scary if all the whooshing noises and synth drones were absent?
The film only runs about 89 minutes, but it feels very padded. The ultimate padding trick is employed here, which involves a lengthy shot of a car driving down a road while the soundtrack tosses out some tune. The dialogue has all kinds of meaningless extra details added in, simply to make the scenes last a little bit longer. Characters are shown wandering from place to place, just so we know where they are and what they're doing at any given time. Many of these shots could have been cut with absolutely no consequences. You get the sense that a so-so short film could have been made out of the material here, but what's actually presented is pretty thin. I've never seen the Japanese film this one has been remade from, but if I were a betting person I'd be willing to bet that it's a bit more complex and interesting than this one.
Shutter reminded me a little bit of the ho-hum Michael Keaton thriller White Noise. The latter was presented as a horror movie, but felt more like a bad PBS documentary about the phenomenon of "white noise". This film does the same thing with "spirit images", which some people insist are absolutely real. Every so often, someone in the movie will give us a small lecture on how these spirit images work, how cameras capture them, and so on. Then, we cut to images of Jackson and Taylor looking very concerned. The movie isn't as mind-bogglingly atrocious as some recent remakes of Japanese horror films. However, it is probably the most boring horror flick I've seen lately, which may be even worse. You want to know how banal Shutter is? There's a scene in which Jackson is tortured by...wait for it...flash photography in a dark room. Yeah. Spooky. When the film ultimately does provide its final revelation, the secret is particularly ugly and unimaginative.
The performances of Joshua Jackson and Rachael Taylor are okay, but sadly uninspired. Jackson in particular seems to be sleepwalking through his performance, as if he wants us to know that he's only doing this movie for the money. Director Masayuki Ochiai also seems to be just going through the motions, staging scenes in a rather flat and lifeless manner. The set design tends to add to this effect, with various grays, blacks, and whites dominating the aesthetic feel of the whole thing.
The hi-def transfer here is fine, if a little on the inconsistent side. On certain occasions, the film goes for a gritty and grainy look, and other times it remains crystal-clear. The shifts are a little too random. Blacks could stand to be a bit deeper than they are. Still, the film does indeed sparkle from time to time. Some of the long shots of downtown Tokyo look particularly terrific. Sound is mostly quiet and understated, with occasional booming passages courtesy of the sound effects guys and composer Nathan Barr. This may cause you to turn to the volume control on occasion.
You have to give the disc credit for including a very generous batch of special features. Unfortunately, few of these are interesting. First up is a commentary with Rachael Taylor, screenwriter Luke Dawson, and production executive Alex Sundell. This self-congratulatory track annoyed me a bit, particularly the unanimous agreement by everyone that this is "a really intelligent psychological horror film that is far above the average slasher movie." Are you kidding me? Meanwhile, the featurettes spend much of their time educating us on the idea of "spirit images". This kicks off with "Ghost in the Lens" (8 minutes), which is presented with surprisingly pretentious black and white photography and ominous synth noises. "A Cultural Divide: Shooting in Japan" (9 minutes) gives us more of the same, as does "A History of Spirit Photography" (5 minutes). A brief featurette on how to manipulate photos and add ghosts is very pointless. Yet another brief featurette teaches how to hunt for ghosts. How bored do you think I am? There's a nine-minute interview with the director, a five-minute interview with the screenwriter, and a two-minute interview with Joshua Jackson. We get seventeen minutes of "spirit image" videos which we are informed "have driven many viewers to insanity or suicide". Hmmm. They drove me to boredom. Finally, nearly a half-hour of deleted scenes is included, and they're quite dull. Quantity over quality is the name of the game here. A final note: the film is an "Unrated" edition, but there's not much new material. The only "R-rated" scene features a shot of a guy actually hitting the ground after jumping off a balcony (the theatrical version cut away before the landing).
Shudder! Shutter belongs in the sh...hmm, what's that? Someone's on the phone? Sorry, forgot what I was going to say. Don't watch this movie.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio (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 w/Alex Sundell, Rachael Taylor & Luke Dawson
* "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"
* "In Character With Joshua Jackson"
* Japanese Spirit Photography
* Alternate and Deleted Scenes
* Original DVD Verdict Review