Movie Review – Shutter [remake] (2008)

Shutter (2008) is yet another Americanized remake of a well-received, ghost-in-the-machine Asian horror film. It is not the worst by a long shot, and that’s the extent to which it can boast. I have not seen the original Thai film on which it is based, and therefore cannot tell which story elements can be credited to its predecessor, but Shutter is a movie with some intriguing plot qualities that unfortunately become buried in a timid approach with mediocre scares.

Directed by Masayuki Ochiai, the plot tells of a newlywed American couple who move to Japan so the husband, played by Joshua Jackson, can resume his work as a photographer. While driving they hit a woman in the street who mysteriously disappears, and thereafter they begin to see apparitions in photos and a ghostly presence which malevolently stalks them and kills their friends. The setting of the film is an attempt to recreate the success of 2004’s The Grudge in establishing the foreboding atmosphere of an outsider in a foreign land, but this effect is nullified when nearly every “Japanese” character with extensive English dialogue speaks with a perfect American accent.

The characters are never deeply developed in the film and the overly pretty actors are used more as models to showcase fashion. We care absolutely nothing for their fate, and therefore there is no tension. This is particularly true for the couple’s friends who are killed shortly after we meet them in quick succession in ways that are both laughable (a spirit-bullet-of-sorts through the eye) and/or boring. Unfortunately, the film’s approach to the now familiar techniques of Asian horror that were used with such gusto in the past is so tame that they’re stale.

I have to wonder, too, if there is more to the script than made it to the screen, for some elements are unclear. For instance, is their friend Bruno in his underwear because he’s too distraught to dress, or because of some sexual implication? Such ambiguity and reliance on suggestion are important for a film like this, the target audience of which is teens, to maintain a PG-13 rating, but too often these suggestions seem muddled or are missed entirely. This is also glaringly obvious when the couple hits the girl with their car on a rainy night, and the scene fades to black. When it fades back it is snowing, and when they get out of the car a moment later the snow has stopped falling and there is a thick layer of it on the ground. I have to assume that they both were knocked unconscious, though this is unlikely and the actors don’t indicate it, and it instead comes across as a mistake in editing continuity, which it still may very well be. Other elements of the script itself are unintentionally laughable, such as the way in which the “spirit photography” angle is worked into the script in an absurdly convenient way.

There is an interesting twist to the film’s ending and I will give the movie credit for not trying to rely exclusively on fake jump-scares, which is rare in a teen-targeted horror, but the air of dread it tries to muster is ultimately tired and ineffective.

Grade: D