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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Shutter

In the opening moments of Shutter, we see a young newlywed couple at their wedding. Ben (Joshua Jackson) and Jane Shaw (Rachael Taylor) are both young, happy, and seem to have their lives stretching out before them. Of course, we the audience know something they don't. They're in a horror movie, and so therefore, things are about to go south for the happy couple in a hurry. They have no time for a honeymoon, as they have to fly off for Tokyo so that Ben can start his new job as a model photographer for a magazine. They arrive in Tokyo, and before they even get a chance to turn on the TV and experience their first Japanese game show, that's when the trouble starts.

Jane and Ben are driving down one of those dark and eerie roads you only see in horror movies, when they suddenly hit the figure of a young woman that comes darting out into the middle of the street. The ensuing accident sends their car spiraling off the road, and the young couple are unconscious for the rest of the night. When they come to, there is no sign of the girl they hit, and despite Ben's insistence that it was probably just an animal or something, Jane is still troubled by the experience. They still try to go about their new lives together, and while Ben begins his magazine job, Jane starts wandering the streets of Tokyo, taking pictures. That's when she notices something strange. When her pictures come back, there's something strange about them. Sometimes, there's a white streak-like apparition that should not be there. Or sometimes, there's a ghostly image of a woman who also shouldn't be there, and bears a striking resemblance to the one they hit that night. A friend of Jane's named Seiko (Maya Hazen) happens to know someone who works at a ghost-themed magazine, and introduces her to the concept of spirit photography. Jane starts trying to gather clues of just who this mystery woman who keeps on appearing in her pictures could be, and what she wants with her. Ben tries his best to brush these fears off, but the fact that he keeps on seeing this menacing ghost woman everywhere makes it hard. Meanwhile, we the audience are left wondering how many more times we'll have to see this kind of movie.

Shutter is the third remake of an Asian horror film (the original hails from Thailand) in as many months, and it's really starting to wear me down. There are so many times we can see young Hollywood actors being menaced by gray-skinned Japanese ghosts before it loses the scare effect that the filmmakers intend. To be fair, this is probably one of the better Asian horror remakes that I've seen. Director Masayuki Ochiai (a Japanese filmmaker making his English language debut) does have a good sense of atmosphere, and is able to deliver an effective jolt or two. The movie is definitely better than January's One Missed Call, and more effective than February's The Eye. But the fact remains, we've seen it all before, and the movie does very little to set itself apart from the numerous imitators. The moments that are effective in delivering some genuine frights are unfortunately few and far between. The most effective moment is when Ben is alone in a set where a model photo shoot just took place, when the lights suddenly go out, and all the cameras around him start flashing randomly, giving us brief fleeting glimpses of the ghost woman approaching Ben with each flash of light. The film's climactic moments also has a few good shots, as well. However, most of the scares employed by the film are of the cheap variety, where innocent people like to suddenly jump into the frame rapidly while a loud noise bangs on the soundtrack. You'd think Ben would know that if his wife is so scared about this ghost woman terrorizing them, it wouldn't be a wise idea to just suddenly pop up behind her without warning.

Setting aside the cheap jolts and scares of the film, the movie really is about the young couple at the center of the film, and how they find their relationship tested by the events around them. Rachael Taylor makes for a surprisingly strong and sympathetic heroine, something I wasn't expecting walking in. More than being a shrieky victim, she decides to take matters into her own hands, and shows a surprising amount of conviction as she slowly starts to piece the story of this ghost woman together. Her realization of how this woman is connected to them beyond that night on the road places her in a tough situation where she must not only question everything she knows, but also her husband. As Ben, Joshua Jackson doesn't get as much to do, but it's not entirely his fault. The movie paints him as a distant and often angry man. The movie should have done a better job of making him a more three dimensional character, which would have made the film's final moments and revelations much more effective. The only other performer in the film who could be noted as a stand out is Megumi Okina as the ghost stalking the couple. While she's not particularly scary as a ghost, she does have a few effective heartbreaking moments during the flashback scenes that tell her story.

I think I'd probably like Shutter more if I wasn't so burned out on Asian horror. The movie is competently made, makes good use of its exotic Japanese setting, and even has a couple effective scares to its credit. But, just as the young couple at the center of the movie is haunted by a specter from the past, so to is this movie haunted by the specters of several others just like it. There's just not much new to see here, and it should only be seeked out by those who are still scared by these kind of movies. I suspect the number of those people are dwindling with each one that's released. Maybe Hollywood should stop plundering from Asia's film library, and start coming up with their own ideas.

See the movie times in your area or buy the DVD at Amazon.com!

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