Dir: Masayuki Ochiai. US/HKG/Jap. 2008. 84 mins.
A remake of 2004's Thai horror film of the same name, Shutter tells the story of a young American couple vacationing in Japan who cope with a vengeful ghost while trying to unravel the mystery of a woman they may or may not have hit with their car. Listless performances, overly familiar visual iconography and unimaginative set-ups render the movie worthy of nothing more than a shrug - even from the less demanding under-15 set for which it appears to have been chiefly designed.
Among wide new releases, Shutter (which did not screen in advance for critics) placed third over Easter weekend, pulling in $10.4 million at just over 2,750 theatres. That total fell well short of fellow debut Meet the Browns, but surprisingly edged out the more aggressively-marketed Drillbit Taylor, starring Owen Wilson. Steep fall-off and a lack of positive word-of-mouth will hardly matter as this seems designed from the get-go to earn a quick, quiet buck. Two or three more modest weekends in theatres should follow before moderate pay-cable and DVD earnings, placing Shutter at a similar level - or even slightly ahead of - 2006's Pulse ($20.2 million domestically, $9.5 million internationally), another PG-13 horror film remade from an Eastern property.
Following their wedding, Jane (Taylor) and Ben Shaw (Jackson) head straight to Japan, their honeymoon doubling as a work assignment for Ben, a fashion photographer. Driving to Tokyo at night, they have an accident on a snowy back road; Jane insists they struck a woman. Plagued by both unnerving visions and spectral distortions in photographs they've taken, Jane and Ben figure out the woman must be Megumi (Okina), a translator and former needy girlfriend of Ben's from a previous work stint in the country. More havoc ensues, and Jane, already a bit needy herself, begins to wonder if Ben is telling the full truth about the extent of his relationship with Megumi.
For a fleeting moment or two early on, Japanese director Masayuki Ochiai (Infection) seems committed to at least crafting a movie with a definitive sense of style, but a small handful of effects and interesting compositions quickly give way to pedestrian framing and desultory jump-scares.
That the film's signature moments of dread and shock come via another pale-faced, wet, dark-haired girl - a figure of menace already roundly skewered by the Scary Movie series, among others - is perhaps unfortunate, but not an insurmountable impediment to tension. The socio-cultural isolation of the setting could be used to the story's advantage, to feed especially Jane's sense of unease and displacement.
Instead, though, Luke Dawson's script offers lame set-ups (visits to a psychic investigator and Megumi's house) and perfunctory dialogue that requires Jackson's character shift back and forth in sympathy to his new wife. As such, the nominal twist in the film's final third feels tacked on, and silly.
As in last summer's Transformers, which at least had the excuse of giant, clamorous robots, Taylor utterly fails to make an impression one way or another. Jackson, meanwhile, invests wholeheartedly in exactly one emotion for each scene, and otherwise just lets his stubble shade the characterization.
Technical credits are unmemorable at best. There's a decided lack of visual flair to Shutter, which is shot seemingly with its collapse to television screens already in mind. Nathan Barr's music, though, at least doesn't wallow in high-register shrieks and wails like so many horror scores.
20th Century Fox
Director of photography
Michael N. Knue
James Kyson Lee