March 22, 2008

Movie Review: Shutter (2008)

In 2004 a film reached the big screen in Thailand, it was called Shutter. The film proved to be a hit and was added into the Hollywood machine to be remade. Following the moderate success of the majority of Asian-horror remakes, it would seem to be a given that this would be added to the long list that began with The Ring in 2002 (and stands as the best of the remakes). Beyond that, Shutter has become the third one to reach the cineplex this year (after One Missed Call and The Eye). Now, the problem these films are running into is that they are all blending together. It seems like all of the films are being pulled from the same style, you know, the girls with long black hair that walk funny and have funny sounds, not to mention the washed out colors and plentiful jump scares. Anyway, this outing is about as generic as they come. I can only hope the original film is better.

As Shutter opens, we are introduced to the recently married couple of Ben (Joshua Jackson) and Jane (Rachael Taylor). It is just after the ceremony and the pair preparing to set off for a honeymoon in Tokyo before Ben starts a new job, as a hot shot photographer, with a company in the same city. Little do they know the dangers that lay ahead of them.

Now, the plot is straight forward, and if you have watched a few of these remakes you probably already have a pretty good idea of how it is going to go down and can safely skip the film. It is this familiarity that the filmmakers have to work to overcome. The formula is becoming very familiar at this point and there is very little stepping up to fill the creative void that makes this films worth watching. This puts a lot of pressure on the creative team to deliver a solid script, the director to shepherd the execution, and the actors to make us care.

To use this year's earlier remake releases, there is a thin line between being completely worthless like One Missed Call and the watchable The Eye. In the case of Shutter, it falls south of the watchable line and slightly above One Missed Call. This is a movie that has some nice moments of genuine style going for it, but the execution is tired and relies on the jump scare to keep everyone interested. When it comes to characters, they are as dull, lifeless, and unlikable as they come.

The central conceit to Shutter sounds much like that of White Noise (and we all know how good that was). It involves a phenomenon called spirit photography, which makes the claim that ghosts can appear in photographs when the emotion is strong enough to trap it to this world, unfinished business and whatnot. The question I had going in was whether or not they would tie the ghostly images to actual film, and while Polaroids do come into play (with a discussion of faked photos), the spirits appear on digital photos as well. I was disappointed.

Okay, now back to the honeymooning couple. While driving along a dark road towards a rented cabin, they run over a girl and spin out of control (in true Gothika fashion), only to discover that whomever they hit was nowhere to be found. Jane becomes haunted by guilt and begins to see the girl around town. Meanwhile, Ben is diving into his work as a fashion photog. Initially, he ignores his wife's troubles, but when they begin to impact him, his story changes.

See what I mean about telling where the tale is heading? Add in Ben's old friends, Bruno and Adam, and the picture becomes even more clear. This doesn't even touch on the bounty of hints strewn throughout for you to find. One thing to remember, though, there are a few apparent hints that never pay off in a meaningful manner, at least not for me.

The movie just is not all that good. I kept waiting for a reason to like the characters; it never came. I waited and waited, wanting to care, searching for that way in that never appeared. I could care less about whether they lived or died. Their scares? The set ups were terribly transparent and telegraphed from a long way off. The script? Dull, uninspired, and repetitive.

With all of the dull elements piled on, one has to wonder if there is anything good in the film. Believe it or not, there is. The first is a sequence with the spirit confronting Ben in his studio, the lights are off and the powerful flashes are going off. With each flash, the two are in different positions, generating a truly creepy sequence. Beyond this moment, much is made of the Tokyo locations, bringing scenery not often seen in Hollywood films. There were some shots that looked fantastic, save for the requisite washed out colors.

Oh yes, one more problem before signing off. The conceit of the spirit photography does not go very far. Yes, there are a couple of scenes and discussions about it, it is only used to reveal our ghost. The implication of the advertising was that this was going to play a bigger role (again, like the tapes in White Noise). Instead, we are given very little of the film's true basis in favor of a more standard ghost story.

Bottomline. You'd be better served passing this one over. If you feel the need to watch an Asian horror remake, go rewatch The Ring or The Grudge (both first editions, not the terrible sequels), or another one I liked while no one else does, Pulse. Aside a couple of tiny elements, there is not much to like here.

Not Recommended.


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