Benjamin Franklin once noted that there is nothing more certain than death and taxes. Now many Americans would probably find a horror film based on an IRS agent scary death is a more common theme in such flicks. Death is, after all, the great unknown in every culture. Just about as long as there have been dead people lying around there have been those wishing to communicate with them. In the world of the horror movie this need to talk is present on both sides of the mortal curtain. The dead seem to want to reach out and touch someone all the time. Restless spirits do appear to be very creative in finding ways to let the living know they are around. In film there has been the hackney ouija board, moving furniture and with the growing number of electronic devise around messages in the static of blank television channels. One supposed means of communicating with the dead for the last couple of centuries has been spirit photography. This is where a ghostly image is found on the exposed film of a normal photograph. Most of us have relatives that try to jump in to family snapshots uninvited and that is an annoyance. When the one crowding the shot is dead then it is just down right spooky. This is technique of spirit communication is a popular one with the horror flick crowd and now there is yet another member to join the ranks; ‘Shutter’. This is a straight forward popcorn flick that is best viewed on a rainy night when there is nothing on cable and you don’t want to go out to the Cineplex.
There is a growing new sub genre of horror flicks making their rounds here in the States; remakes of Japanese horror films. Since the Japanese horror trend has now expanded to other countries in Asia the American remakes now have a wider territory to scout for material. The original film for ‘Shutter’ came from Thailand. I have seen a number of Thai horror flicks and they similar to their Japanese counterparts but with a unique flavor and twist. Most Japanese horror movies are more psychological thrillers then the blood soaked films of the genre here in America. Sure the Japanese movies have blood but it is a means to an end instead of the payoff for the action. They focus more on the terror that the mind can create. We go more for visceral presentation and sadly many modern American films of this type have degraded into the blood and boobs category. This often leaves American remakes of Asian horror movies as much in limbo as they ghosts they are about. The American audiences demand the blood but the source material is more psychological. Many of these remakes fail to do well because it is almost impossible to serve but the content of the original film and the requirements of the audience. Unfortunately ‘Shutter’ has the many of the same problems. This is the first feature script for writer Luke Dawson. He shows very good promise but this screenplay is just a bit on the pedantic side. The main characters, a newlywed couple, are insufficiently drawn to hold the interest of the audience. We know he is a photographer and she is beautiful but there is little in the way of character development afford to them. Normally it is good when a horror thriller gets right into the action but here there is a sense that more was needed to set up the couple before you have the bride plow into a girl on the proverbial dark and stormy road. There is little in the way of surprises here; nothing to make you bolt upright or cling to the edge of your seat and that is what you really want from a movie of this type.
Directing the film is Masayuki Ochiai, who has about a decade of experience in most of the variations of the genre from those with Sci-Fi slants to the comical. With this behind him he knows how to present a good old fashion ghost story. He moves the plot along fairly well. There is some time to set up the premise nicely. He basically has the wife becoming suspicious of the rouge images on the photos while the ghost increasingly manifests itself to the husband. By the end of the first act they are on the same page with the knowledge that they are encountering some sort of supernatural event or presence. Naturally before he can come to grips with what is happening he is standoffish to his bride dismissing her concerns. The ghost is running his photos and his job is on the line. Having extensive work in the Japanese horror community is a plus for Ochiai. He knows not to rush things too much. It takes a half an hour before any blood is shown and still more time before things heat up. This may seem dreadfully slow to many in an American audience but this is how a psychological horror flick should proceed.
The story starts on the wedding day of Ben Shaw (Joshua Jackson) and his bride Jane (Rachael Taylor). They are understandably happy and looking forward to their honeymoon in the country side of Japan. Towards the end of their vacation it is late and Jane is driving; Ben half asleep next to her. Jane takes her eyes off the road for a moment to glance at the map and all of a sudden she hits a young woman, Megumi (Megumi Okina) trailing her under the car. The car spins out of control and crashes. When they come to Jane looks for the girl but there are no signs of her. Soon afterwards Ben and Jane move to Tokyo where he is about to start a new job as a commercial photographer. Part of the deal is a fantastic living and working space in a building about to open. Ben is assigned a very pretty assistant Seiko (Maya Hazen) who starts to become friendly with Jane. Jane notices blurs and white streaks on their wedding photos. She shows them to Seiko who believes them to be spirit photos. Her ex-boyfriend, Ritsuo (James Kyson Lee) knows a lot about the subject and even has a magazine about it. They visit him and he confirms they are most likely spirit photographs. Things start happening when Ben gets a glimpse of Megumi at a photo shoot. Later, when he goes to develop the film all the shots are ruined. There are streaks and blurs on all the photos putting his budget and schedule in jeopardy. Just then he sees Megumi moving in one shot and chemicals splash all over his face. He runs outside to look in a mirror and his face is bloodied. Seiko comes in and all of a sudden his face is fine. The manifestations of the ghostly form of Megumi become increasingly pronounced terrorizing the couple.
The best way to watch this film is not to go into it with high expectation. Just look for an old fashion ghost story to pass the time and you will be much better off. The movie has its flaws but with some popcorn and friends around you just might be amused by it. Fox has done a great job of bringing it to DVD. There are both DVD and Blu-ray versions. The Blu-ray release was made available for preview so the technical details and extras to follow are only confirmed for that variation. The picture is naturally very well mastered with an excellent color balance. The HD-DTS audio provides exceptional channel separation and clarity. The following are the included extras: