Shutter (DVD)

ON

Now available on DVD

Cast:

Joshua Jackson as Benjamin Shaw

Rachael Taylor as Jane Shaw

Megumi Okina as Megumi Tanaka

David Denman as Bruno

John Hensley as Adam

Maya Hazen as Seiko

Directed by Masayuki Ochiai

Movie:

I doubt if anyone was holding out hope that the umpteenth PG-13 remake of a Far East ghost story was going to seem any less tired than the likes of Dark Water, Pulse, One Missed Call or The Eye but I thought Shutter at least stood a chance of being watchable. The 2004 Thai film that this is based on was one of the better Asian offerings in recent years, a film that gave a little bit of creepiness back to the by-now exhausted black-haired ghost girl sub-genre. The spirit photography angle lent itself to some eerie visuals and the film built to a pleasing, low-key shudder in its closing moments. It wasn’t great, but it was good. As long as a remake could retain that vibe and stick to the structure that was set up, you’d have a satisfying ghost story. Well, in mounting this US version, the makers of the new Shutter must’ve decided that they shouldn’t try to throw the American audience any curves by making a film that was surprisingly good or even acceptably mediocre so they went straight to ‘bullshit’.

As director Masayuki Ochiai – who made his U.S. debut here – had previously helmed such well-received Asian shockers as Hypnosis (1999) and Infection (2004), there was initial reason to think that he’d be able to hold onto what made the original Shutter the modestly effective chiller that it was. But Ochiai isn’t able to counter the abysmal script he’s working with here, courtesy of writer Luke Dawson. As adaptations go, this is a rank failure.

The film begins with young newlyweds Ben (Joshua Jackson) and Jane Shaw (Rachael Taylor) in Tokyo where Ben is due to begin a new job as a fashion photographer. But while driving late at night along a lonely country road, a woman wanders in front of their car and Jane isn’t able to avoid her. Their car ends up in the side of the road but when Jane and Ben recover and rescue workers arrive, no sign of the mystery girl can be found. Jane keeps insisting that she hit someone, though, and she leaves the scene under protest.

This early scene is a key misstep with Shutter. We’re supposed to be led to believe, as Jane does, that she really might’ve hit someone. And after that, when ghostly images start appearing on every frame of film that either she or Ben shoot, we should assume that it all started with that fateful hit and run. But where Dawson and Ochiai fail is in making it too obvious that this girl was a ghost from the start. The way this accident is shot, there’s no confusion that this was some kind of specter. So to have Jane try to convince Ben for the next hour as one spooky event piles onto the next that this is all because they ran down an innocent person is to be impatient for Shutter‘s real story to begin. We know that there’s going to be more behind this incident revealed – that ghost was on that road for a reason! – and until then we’re just left to bide our time, waiting for the characters to catch up with us. Ideally, when Jane finally sees evidence that this ghost had been stalking her and Ben well before they even set foot in Japan, it should be a startling twist that takes our breath away as much as it does Jane’s. It should be a big surprise that makes us we realize we’d been expertly misled by the filmmakers and yet instead it’s a matter of them having made us wait fifty whole minutes until they turned the next card over.

Something else that works against Shutter is that we’re aware far too soon that this ghost is out to deliver a message of some kind. Whenever a ghost comes back to point a finger at someone in the living world for a wrong that was done, it never makes for an especially terrifying film. Instead, the film becomes more of a moral parable where the guilty are punished from beyond the grave. The rare exception to this rule is 1999’s Stir of Echoes, and even that became less intriguing the more we found out about the nature of its haunting. Hauntings in horror movies are terrifying when they involve inexplicable events, when the protagonists are at a total loss to understand what’s happening to them. Sure, we can know that something bad happened at a location in the past whether it be at Hill House or the Overlook Hotel but just because, for instance, we know that Ronald DeFeo Jr. killed his family with a shotgun, it doesn’t mean we have any clue exactly why a pair of red eyes are seen staring from the upstairs children’s bedroom of 112 Ocean Avenue. But in a movie like Shutter, every manifestation of the paranormal is a clue to be deciphered and that kind of breadcrumb narrative flies in the face of developing irrational terror.

What might’ve somewhat saved Shutter would’ve been the presence of likeable, charismatic leads. Instead Jackson and Taylor make for an instantly off-putting couple (which is ironic as a major alteration from the Thai film – the Thai couple deliberately chooses to flee the scene of their hit and run accident while Ben and Jane are let off that moral hook by losing consciousness after the crash – was made because the producers worried that US audiences wouldn’t able to see Ben and Jane as sympathetic if they were shown to make such a callous decision. Apparently no one involved in this film had ever seen I Know What You Did Last Summer). Outside of some newlywed sex, Ben and Jane are already on their way to being tense and unhappy with each other by the time the opening credits are over so there’s little room for us to root for their relationship. On top of that, they’re just as unpleasant as individuals as they are as a couple. Ben, for one, is clearly a weasel. We know this because his only two friends – Bruno (David Denman, best known from The Office) and Adam (John Hensley of Nip/Tuck) – are both complete assholes. And Jane is just a drag, constantly moping around Tokyo with no idea what to do with herself. So the idea of harm coming to either of these characters or to anyone in their immediate circle is not any cause for concern.

The few jolts that Shutter does offer are tepid even by PG-13 standards (some of the film’s attempts at fright are too ridiculous to elicit anything but derisive giggles – as when the ghost forces her long, CGI tongue down Jackson’s throat) and even on this ‘unrated’ DVD, Ochiai can’t muster any real frights. The characters that do perish at the hands of the film’s vengeful spirit do so in such a lame fashion that you pray these aren’t the movie’s big moments yet it turns out they are.

Even at the height of the J-Horror craze, Shutter would’ve been a dud. But in 2008, this corner of the genre already suffers from overexposure. Watching Shutter go through its predictable paces is like thumbing through the same photo album for the hundredth time.

Bonus Features:

Audio Commentary by Production Executive Alex Sundell, writer Luke Dawson, and actress Rachael Taylor: This is an amiable talk with all three participants having an easy rapport. Sundell has the most to say, offering many details about the production. Taylor speaks enthusiastically in her native Australian accent, and Dawson is more sporadic than his co-commentators in his anecdotes and insights. Just to note one thing: when Sundell talks about how Taylor’s pro-active character was one of the things that appealed to her about this project (“This is not just about Blonde-Girl-in-Creepy-Japanese-House.”), I have wonder if she’s ever seen any horror movies in the last thirty years or more where women are more often than not portrayed as strong protagonists. Probably not.

A Ghost in the Lens: This approximately eight-minute featurette is kind of a general overview of the cast and crew of Shutter‘s attitude towards the supernatural subject matter of Shutter and how they feel the film embodies those views. Everyone interviewed – from actors Jackson and Taylor to producer Roy Lee and writer Luke Dawson – seems earnest but knowing that the final product is so poor makes their comments feel empty.

A Cultural Divide: Shooting in Japan: This nine-and-a-half minute featurette addresses the choice to film Shutter in Japan and why it was important to the production to shoot there. There’s not much of substance here, although translator Chiho Asada, who made it possible for the cast and Ochiai to communicate, is interviewed and she speaks briefly about the inherent difficulties of translating the sometimes vague creative feelings of actors and directors to each other.

The Director: Masayuki Ochiai: The soft-spoken Ochiai talks in a sub-titled, nine-minute interview about his feelings towards the original Thai Shutter, his approach to the remake, the waning popularity of the longhaired ghost girl in Asian cinema and the phenomenon of spirit photography.

A Conversation with Luke Dawson: The screenwriter talks about various aspects of Shutter’s development in this five-and-a-half minute featurette, such as the fact that the remake was originally supposed to be set in New York City. He also asserts that Western audiences have a greater need for all of a film’s plot threads to be resolved in a way that Eastern audiences don’t. And he also talks about researching the cultural aspects of Shutter’s script (“I don’t know how anyone wrote anything before the internet.”). Finally, he talks about how the language divide in the production necessitated his presence on the set more than an English-language production would’ve.

A History of Spirit Photography: This five-minute overview of the history of spirit photography, featuring ‘real’ vintage photos, only serve to make spirit photography look like it’s been a scam from Day One.

Create Your Own Phantom Photo: In four minutes, we’re walked through the steps to create our own ‘phantom photo’ through the use of Photoshop. I found this to be a curious extra to include after so much time in the other extras trying to treat spirit photography as a valid phenomenon.

The Hunt for the Haunt: Tools and Tips for Ghost Hunting: This two-and-a-half minute featurette may be the single dumbest extra I’ve ever encountered on a disc. It’s just text on the screen entailing ‘tips’ for the novice ghost hunter. As these words appear against a background of spooky mist, viewers are given such sage pointers as “Start locally, ask around for rumors of haunted places. Check your local library for books on local ghost stories” and “Check newspapers a week before Halloween.” And there’s also this piece of encouragement: “Usually a place you think is haunted probably is.” Well, I think this film is haunted by failure and I’m pretty sure I’m right about that.

Deleted Scenes: Here we have about fifteen minutes worth of scenes that theatrical moviegoers had to wait until now to see, like “Jane Eats a Big Mac” as well as an alternate ending.

Trailers: Trailers for Pathology and Joy Ride 2: Dead End round out Shutter‘s special features.