United States, 2008
Directed By: Masayuki Ochiai
Written By: Luke Dawson
Starring: Joshua Jackson, Rachael Taylor, Megumi Okina
Running Time: 85 minutes
Rated PG-13 for terror, disturbing images, sexual content and language
This review was originally published March 21, 2008.
Since the success of 2002’s The Ring, Hollywood has been unstoppable in its determination to remake every Asian horror film of the last ten years or so. From a business standpoint, I suppose this makes sense—Asia’s been extremely prolific in churning out decent thrillers as of late, and remaking them is sure a lot easier than coming up with your own ideas (something Hollywood’s been notoriously bad at from the very start—that Maltese Falconmovie starring Humphrey Bogart? it was the second remake of the original, which was, of course, based on the book by Dashiell Hammett to begin with). But there’s something disturbingly xenophobic about most of the resulting films. On the one hand, they give Americans yet another excuse to pretend that Hollywood cinema is the only cinema that matters; on the other, they usually end up transporting the heroes to Asia, anyway—making the heroes Americans and the ghouls Asians (and also making the remake seem even more unnecessary). I’m not sure what to read into this—economic anxiety, maybe? (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, ask anyone from Detroit.)
But regardless of whether their existence is justified, they’re here, so I have to review them. Shutter stars Joshua Jackson (Ocean’s Eleven) as Ben, an American photographer who has just accepted a job at a Japanese magazine. Unfortunately, the job starts just a few days after his upcoming wedding, so he and his bride Jane (Rachael Taylor, Transformers) decide to spend a day or two in a cabin near Mt. Fuji in lieu of a honeymoon. On the way there, they drive through some dark, secluded woods, and run off the road in the middle of the night. When they regain consciousness, Jane is convinced they hit someone, but there’s no evidence of a collision. Shaken, they proceed onto the honeymoon, and later to their new apartment in Tokyo, but Ben’s photographs are beginning to show strange features. At first, there are just white blotches here and there, but then a face begins to appear. Jane recognizes it from that night. Now guess whether the spirit is friendly or not.
This is yet another entry in the horror subgenre best described as “movies where creepy-looking young females stare at the protagonists from across the room.” Not to argue with genre conventions too much, but it seems like horror film ghosts have an awful lot of time to kill. If they really wish our heroes some sort of harm, why don’t they just get it over with, instead of spending days and days (well—nights and nights) just standing there and looking creepy? Maybe I should just let filmmakers give the people what they want, but Shutterseems convinced that it invented this bit of shtick. It didn’t. For a movie that wouldn’t exist without The Ring, it sure seems to be going out of its way to ignore that particular film’s existence. But I digress.
Shutter, put simply, is the sort of film you’ll enjoy if you’re willing to put up with gaping holes in the logic for the sake of a few cheap jump scares. This is the sort of film where the characters actively seek out scary situations for no discernable reason other than to add more scary incidence to the film (sadly, no one ever says, “I’ll be right back,” but I guess we can’t have it all). Case in point: Jane, about half an hour into the film, becomes convinced that the ghost wants her to go to a certain building—how does she know that? I have no idea—so she goes there, alone, finds the right room—again, I have no idea how she knows which one—and simply waits for our favorite antagonist to show up. Scariness ensues. Imagine this happening ten or fifteen times, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what this movie’s like.
There are a handful of the usual plot twists here, but somehow they just make the thingmore predictable. These are the sort of twists where the director says, “Oh, and by the way, I’ve been lying to you this whole time. Sorry about that.” Shutter presents what has the potential to be a compelling scenario, but since it doesn’t actually reveal what’s going on until the very end, it’s not able to examine it in any meaningful ways. Instead of allowing us to get to know the characters or understand the moral dilemmas, it puts forward its silly ghost-photography gimmick, which, quite honestly, seems completely unnecessary in the first place. This movie is about a ghost stalking a married couple—why not just tell that story, instead of trying to shoehorn a much-ridiculed parapsychological phenomenon into the proceedings?
The answer, quite frankly, is because Shutter is pure shtick and nothing more—a pastiche of jump-scares, sustained violin notes (as if we didn’t all know what those meant by now), and inflated novelty. Everything it offers has been done better in Psycho, What Lies Beneath, and—yes—The Ring, and you’re better off staying home and renting any one of those three.