An American couple honeymooning in Japan learn that actions can have ghostly consequences when he groom, a photographer, is called back to his job for a fashion shoot in this tepid English-language remake of a 2004 Thai chiller. Newlyweds Benjamin and Jane Shaw (Joshua Jackson and Rachael Taylor) apparently hit a young woman as they drive along a rain-swept rural road on the way to Tokyo so that Ben, who’s worked in Japan before, can shoot a layout for his old firm. But though they call in the cops, a search reveals no body. Later they find white blotches on their honeymoon pictures as well as those that Ben takes of his models, and they come to suspect they might be blurry images of the dead girl—a phenomenon, apparently of great interest in the East, called spirit photography. The ghost eventually takes on more substantial shape and not only appears to the duo in a threatening way, but targets Ben for deadly seduction. Is there some reason this spirit is harassing them?
The answer to that question follows a revenge scenario all too familiar from such stories, one that involves Ben, his office buddies Bruno (David Denman) and Adam (John Hensley), and the sad-faced woman (Megumi Okina) who once worked with them– “Shutter” is just another in the seemingly endless stream of eastern ghost stories that Hollywood has taken up as a way of responding to its own creative famine. And in this case the surprise revelation at the close is so absurd that it seems intended to generate chuckles rather than fright.
Japanese director Masayuki Ochiai, the latest of the practitioners of the genre to make the jump across the Pacific, does what he can with the material, but by this time the obligatory “gotcha” sightings of the ghost and spooky meandering through dark hallways and rooms awash in wind-blown tarp don’t carry much punch. (A moment that’s apparently designed as a homage to the famous fruit cellar scene in “Psycho” is a particularly bad miscalculation, and an episode featuring—I kid you not—a haunted curtain goes beyond idiotic.) Katsumi Yanagishima’s cinematography’s makes an interesting shift from the brighter colors of the early scenes and the typically dark, shadowy mood of the later reels, with the images drained of bright colors and saturated in muted blues and greens, and Nathan Barr’s score tries to ratchet up the tension, but we’ve just seen—and heard—this sort of stuff too often lately for it to have any real impact. Nor do Jackson and Taylor bring much to the party. He’s drab and stilted, and she’s pretty but brittle, looking rather like one of Hitchcock’s stately but impassive blonde heroines. Okina makes a typically pale, stringy-haired spook, and Denman and Hensley are appropriately sleazy.
It would seem appropriate to call at least a time-out on remakes of these Asian ghost movies. Even the best of them didn’t make the transition particularly well—the genre always seemed to have a curious cultural (indeed, religious) component that didn’t really translate into American terms, and the effort to make the plots more “logical” or “realistic” in western terms have actually had the perverse effect of instead rendering them more ludicrous.
That’s certainly the case in this instance. When you find out at the end that Ben’s pain in the neck is the big clue to what’s happening, you’re likely to smile simply because the phrase so perfectly fits the movie, too. For a picture about spirits, this latest glum, dreary remake of an Asian ghost story doesn’t have any. It gets points for avoiding the graphic gore so common in horror movies nowadays, but “Shutter” won’t make your shudder, let alone scream.