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85 min.
Release Date

Another remake of another east-Asian horror film, Shutter comes from the same group of producers to Americanize movies like The Eye, The Grudge, and The Ring, all of which suffer from the same problem: the rudimentary fear films like these should strum fail to pluck a single resonant note. Instead, they seem hokey and overly moody, relying on flashy shocks, quick editing, and looming apparitions. The only benefit of such cookie-cutter movies is walking into the theater knowing the running time thankfully spans a mere 85-minutes, just long enough to sit through before those urges to walk out finally win over.

While on Honeymoon in Japan, Benjamin and Jane Shaw (Joshua Jackson and Rachael Taylor) accidentally hit a young woman with their car, sending them spinning into the ditch. The girl disappears, no trace of her body to be found. Benjamin, a top-drawer photographer, takes a job in Tokyo with former business associates, while Jane doesn’t really do anything. In doing nothing, Jane finds her touristy photos of the vast Tokyo streets all share the same photogenic fault—white distortions on or around her image. Indeed, Benjamin has the same problem at work, only his bosses don’t find the concept of spirit photography interesting.

Beginning with an admittedly intriguing concept, the film leans on the photos like a crutch, unwilling to show us any action, only the photographic aftereffect. Writer Luke Dawson adapted the story from the Thai original Sivi, a 2004 thriller by collaborating directors Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom. Dawson’s film lacks any dramatic irony, forcing us blindly forward, in turn disengaging us from what should be dread. Stories akin to this one all work from the same framework where the protagonist must discover the ghost’s mystery, why he or she appears, which, when we learn the truth, makes the ghost into a sympathetic victim. It’s a tired formula. I am forced to wonder: Are there no angry ghosts haunting people just because they’re meanies?

Ghosts in similar movies always appear whitish with dark circles around their eyes, with crooked bodies, sometimes emitting a grotesque sound like a croaking or meowing, and often teach lessons or exact revenge. They creep along, never particularly scary, flashing on and offscreen by the editor’s frenzied cuts. Shutter’s specter remains a transparent, inactive blur that appears almost exclusively in photographs. Having a ghost from Star Magazine-worthy snapshots not only disconnects the viewer from any action, but it also diffuses any hope for suspense. But even when, finally, the ghost begins to haunt in a more physical form, the best we can expect is some struggling with bedroom curtains.

I think back to films like Ghostbusters and Poltergeist, wherein watching free-floating ghouls or transparent mists contained a scary magnificence. Frightening and simple, they challenged our imaginations, whereas the aforementioned Asian-horror remakes contain only moping see-through spirits and pale-skinned bodies. Alas, director Masayuki Ochiai does little to inspire even the occasional thrilled shiver; I was more frightened by Slimer than this film’s lame phantom.

I’ve written this before and no doubt, since similar remakes hit theaters every few months, I’ll write it again: we Americans lack the spiritual belief systems, the element of mysticism deep-rooted into our unconscious cultural identity needed to make such ghost stories effective. At least, not insomuch that a movie like Shutter would bear more meaning beyond a silly Hollywood cliché. In 2008 alone, One Missed Call and The Eye proved my case, as both were laughably bad translations. In their original form, however, those beliefs fit aptly to create stirring thrillers.

It’s no surprise critics weren’t asked to prescreen this film, usually a sign indicating the studio has no faith in their project and would rather avoid what’s sure to be critical lambasting. And why bother? Audiences go for cheap scares, regardless of what critics might write, achieving the numbers required to turn a profit on the first weekend. Except, recent remakes like this one have bombed, hopefully forcing studios to reconsider the quality and frequency of product flying off their assembly line. But after a couple searches on, I found that third sequels for both The Grudge and The Ring are on their way, as well as several more Asian-horror remakes. Shutter might not be the worst of them—offering what might’ve been a clever melodrama on par with Stir of Echoes—but we’ve seen this movie before, and by the looks of it, we’ll see it again.

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