Newlyweds Ben (Joshua Jackson) and Jane (Rachael Taylor) head to Japan for the always romantic honeymoon-cum-business trip. It seems that photographer Ben had worked in Tokyo a few years prior and now is returning, wife in tow, for a freelance gig. Before heading to Tokyo, though, the couple spends their wedding night driving to a cabin near Mt. Fuji. On their way through the snowy country terrain, Jane runs over what she believes to be a Japanese woman standing in middle of the road, but when they stop to check, there's no body -- human or otherwise.
Later, after their mountain cabin gives way to a Tokyo apartment, Jane begins to see things -- and if you're familiar with movies like this, you know what sort of "things" I mean: shadowy figures out of the corner of her eye, ghostly reflections and most notably, white swirls in every photo they have developed. Ben's assistant, Seiko (Maya Hazen), notices the photos and diagnoses them as "spirit photos," pictures in which ghosts make their presence known. (She just happens to have an ex-boyfriend who runs a magazine devoted to the phenomenon.)
The woman Jane ran over, it seems, is haunting them. Ben, who didn't see the woman in the road, initially dismisses Jane's theories until he too starts seeing "things." Very bad things. The mystery, it turns out, lies deeper than a mere hit-and-run, though. As Jane digs further, she discovers that the couple has ties to the woman that run deep into their past, and they must find a way to break the hex before the movie devolves into a Grudge clone.
The End Product
There's no new territory explored in Shutter, largely because the original itself was so derivative. But because the Thai film executed the Asian ghost story formula so well, it proved successful and provided a solid foundation for a remake (or two, if you count the Indian version). The American Shutter is pretty much a straightforward interpretation, with a few scenes edited surprisingly to steer away from Grudge-like imagery (including a downright "normal"-looking ghost whose face is clearly visible). One pivotal scene, however -- the climactic twist -- is hacked to a fault and loses some of its power and narrative cohesion in the process.
Also hampering the film at times is the direction of the normally reliable Ochiai, who, especially early in the film, presents us with "scary" imagery that just doesn't scare. To his credit, though, the film's visuals get stronger as it plays, and by the end, it's generally effective -- although still paling in comparison to the strikingly illustrated original. Some of the fault also lies in the inherent struggle of a PG-13 horror movie to showcase images that are startling but not disturbing enough to warrant an R rating.
That said, for what it is -- a second-tier Asian horror redux with nothing new to say -- Shutter manages to be watchable without engendering any of the knee-jerk eye-rolling of some of the poorer remakes (One Missed Call, The Ring 2, Pulse). Because the framework of the original was so solid, this admittedly safe take on it carries some of the Thai film's mojo. However, future remakers be warned: America's tolerance for this formula is growing thin. Since the Asian ghost figure ("yûrei" in Japanese) is not as ingrained in the US, it comes across more as a cheap fad that threatens to burn itself out. Keep that in mind before you greenlight Shutter 2.
- Acting: B- (Jackson and Taylor perform as well as their limited abilities allow.)
- Direction: C (Uneven scares work about as often as not.)
- Script: C+ (A solid ghost story with classic elements receives a few unwelcome American tweaks.)
- Gore/Effects: C (PG-13-level gore and competent visuals that aren't as impactful as they should be in a film of this sort.)
- Overall: C+ (About on par with second-tier Asian horror remakes like Dark Water and The Eye, yet still falling short of The Ring and, depending on whom you ask, The Grudge.)
Shutter is directed by Masayuki Ochiai and is rated PG-13 for terror, disturbing images, sexual content and language.