It’s hard to dislike any film with such preposterously convenient contrivances as the line, “My ex-boyfriend works for a spirit-photography magazine,” or a plot that expects us to accept the idea that a corpse can just sit and rot for a year or so in a suburban house without anyone noticing. It’s hard, but Shutter manages to generate a strong case of ennui, if not outright dislike.
Looked at dispassionately—in other words, without considering the waste of 85 minutes of your life—it’s nothing more than the latest Hollywooden rehash of yet another J-horror film. Or it would be, except that we’ve now gone past Japan and started in on the rest of Asia with SK-horror (South Korea), HK-horror (Hong Kong) and now T-horror (Thailand) with Shutter. This potentially confusing alphabet-soup of horror importation is now simply A-horror (Asian). Frankly, they could call it Ho-Hum-horror and that would suit me fine.
The rehash did work once—Gore Verbinski’s The Ring (2002) took the J-horror Ringu (1998) and improved on it at every turn—but it’s been downhill from there. And while Shutter is probably no worse than The Ring 2 (2005), The Grudge (2004), Dark Water (2005), Pulse (2006), The Grudge 2 (2006) or One Missed Call (2008), and marginally better than The Eye (2008), it suffers from cumulative mediocrity. In other words, there’s only so much recycled rubbish you can endure without wanting to take a hostage.
Despite the promotion of Shutter as something a little different—a creepy thriller about spirit photography—it’s essentially just another ghost-with-a-grudge yarn. (And most of these are just variations on the 1981 U.S. thriller Ghost Story, which this one resembles more than most.) The spirit-photography angle is nothing more than a device for figuring out what the damned spirit is up to this time.
Worse, you’ll probably figure that out long before the largely TV-refugee cast does, especially since the presumptive hero, Ben (Dawson’s Creek alumnus Joshua Jackson), has two of the most transparently sleazy best friends imaginable, Bruno (David Denman, TV’s The Office) and Adam (John Hensley, TV’s Nip/Tuck). These boys have “bad news” written all over them, which is not coincidental, and neither is the fact that Ben seems a little on the sketchy side himself. Regardless, it makes no sense that they can’t figure out what’s afoot with all these specter-infested snapshots. For that matter, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that Ben’s new wife, Jane (Rachael Taylor, Transformers), takes as long as she does to detect the faint aroma of perfidy.
Taylor has commented to the media that director Masayuki Ochiai doesn’t speak much English, but surely someone involved might have noticed how dumb and dramatically wanting all this was. It might have been excusable to some degree if the film managed to generate some atmosphere, and in all fairness, it very occasionally does. There are a handful of creepy moments and one moderately intense scene (unfortunately, it occurs about halfway through the picture), but these aren’t enough to overcome the been-there-done-that dullness that pervades the bulk of the film. Rated PG-13 for terror, disturbing images, sexual content and language.