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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Shutter (Blu-ray)
Shutter (Blu-ray)
Fox // Unrated // July 15, 2008 // Region A
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted July 22, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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Wait...wait...a kinda jackassy photographer drags his newlywed wife along with him to Tokyo, she struggles with that sense of feeling alone in an almost otherworldly city teeming with tens of millions of people,
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wacky adventures ensue... Wow! Shutter is pretty much Lost in Translation, only swap out a mopey Bill Murray in favor of a quietly vengeful twentysomething ghost who pops up every once in a while.

The slightly less snarky runthrough: it's kind of a working honeymoon for Ben (Joshua Jackson), who brings his blushing bride Jane (Transformers' Rachael Taylor) with him to his old stomping grounds in Tokyo for a fashion photography gig. They do have a couple of days to themselves in a remote cabin before settling down to work, but the two of 'em are barely off the plane before Jane plows into a girl standing in the middle of the road. There's no trace of a body or even a spatter of blood on the blacktop, but Jane can't shake the image of that ghostly pale girl out of her mind. All of the photos the two of them snap across the sea are marred by ghostly white streaks, and as Jane starts to delve into the phenomenon of spirit photography, she continues to be haunted by the recurring sight of the girl she ran over. As Jane kicks off her obligatory J-horror Nancy Drew search for the truth, Ben's old pals in Tokyo start to be knocked off one-by-one, and...yeah. Terrible, buried secret. Ghostly broad hellbent on exacting revenge. Clunky CGI shenanigans. You know how it goes.

The skeleton of Shutter's plot is borderline-indistinguishable from any another J-horror flick, and the handful of stabs at scares are either lazy "boo!" jolts or almost surreally awkward and ineffective. Oh no! The ghost that does essentially nothing throughout the entire course of the movie is walking slowly towards the camera! Wait, the same exact shot of her walking to the camera they showed twenty seconds ago is playing again! Aaahhhhhh! Flee in terror! This is a movie that tries to eke out an eerie atmosphere by having its undead ghostie brush her hair, creep out the audience with CGI flies and getting to first base with her rotting, foot-and-a-half long tongue, and popping up in subway windows and scattered photographs. C'mon, this is supposed to be a horror movie; I shouldn't be laughing at how ridiculous (not to mention bored) the ghost looks. There's never any lingering sense of dread or discomfort, and only one scene in the entire movie -- Ben in a pitch black studio with a flash sporadically flooding the room with light and revealing that the vengeful spirit is only inches away -- manages to get the pulse racing.

Still, while most J-horror knock-offs only really seem to put any effort into the money shots with the ghosts and kind of shrug off the rest, Shutter did kind of manage to draw me in. It helps that Rachael Taylor is such a likeable lead, even if the script doesn't require her to do much more than walk around looking serious, and what success Shutter's later moments have owe a lot to the sympathy earned from Jane feeling like such an outsider in this strange, wholly unfamiliar part of the world. Ben and his pals -- played by David Denman and John Hensley -- infuse Shutter with a jolt of personality, and the concept of spirit photography is a kind of a unique, intriguing angle to take. The revelation of why this spirit is so tormented is disturbing and effective as well, even without any sort of supernatural slant to it.

Sure, it sputters and stutters as any sort of horror movie, but Shutter is at least watchable, and that puts it above pretty much every other J-horror retread of the past few years. I wouldn't recommend it, exactly, but as a rental or something to kill time on Cinemax one weekend, you could do a lot worse. Rent It.

This Blu-ray disc sports an unrated cut of Shutter. Everything seemed like it could've skirted by with a PG-13 rating, but the audio commentary points out some of additional grue: a body hitting the ground after a suicidal leap and a bit of Kentucky Fried Self-mutilation. The other differences are establishing slices of color in Tokyo and brief character moments yanked for pacing. It's also mentioned in the commentary that there's a different cut of Shutter geared towards Japanese audiences, and although that would've been a kind of intriguing addition for this Blu-ray disc, the unrated version is the one and only cut of the movie here.

Video: Shutter's stylized photography
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doesn't exactly make for glossy, shiny high-definition eye candy, but this Blu-ray disc should be a faithful representation of the way the movie looked during its theatrical run a couple months back. This is a movie with a gritty, grainy texture, skewed contrast, and an understated palette, and clarity and fine detail can vary wildly from one shot to the next. Some moments are startlingly beautiful -- particularly many of the crisp, immaculately detailed, strikingly lit close-ups of Rachael Taylor early on -- while many more are fuzzy and teeter on being out of focus. Black levels are all over the map too, and an awful lot of the more dimly-lit sequences are drenched in purple rather than true blacks and are riddled with noise. The AVC encode is at a hefty enough bitrate that the ample grain doesn't ever devolve into a blocky mess, and it's nice to see that Fox resisted smearing the 1.85:1 image with digital noise reduction. Shutter is an unavoidably uneven looking disc, but its stylized, deliberately rough-hewn photography does fit the tone of the movie, and its release on Blu-ray appears to be carrying that over as well as it can.

Audio: The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is pretty much what you'd expect out of a horror mix: 220 megaton blasts belted out by the subwoofer to punctuate all the jump scares and banging around, haunting whispers and spooky sounds swirling around every speaker, swooping dynamics to keep the audience off-guard...you know the drill. As strong as the sound design is -- fleshing out a very effective sense of atmosphere -- the recording of the dialogue is surprisingly clumsy, with too many of the line readings suffering from a flat, unnaturally gritty quality. The dialogue's still discernable throughout, but quite a bit of it just sounds off. Otherwise, I don't really have any gripes.

This Blu-ray disc also packs on Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs in French and Spanish along with subtitles in Mandarin, Korean, Cantonese, Spanish, and English.

Extras: Fox has given Shutter a pretty decent special edition release, backed by an audio commentary and around an hour and a half of featurettes and deleted scenes. It's kind of a drag that none of the extras are in high definition, though.

First up is a commentary track with production executive Alex Sundell, screenwriter Luke Dawson, and actress Rachael Taylor. Don't dive in expecting anything all that deep or insightful -- I noticed that I pretty much stopped jotting down notes about a half hour in -- but it's still a passable chat. Sundell does most of the talking, and a good bit of the conversation revolves around the very different experience of shooting in Tokyo, the adjustments that had to be made for Shutter to play well with American audiences, and the sincere belief of the supernatural in Japan. A lot of these talking points are covered elsewhere in the disc, making this even less of an essential listen.

The alternate-slash-deleted scene reel clocks in at 27 minutes, although it's more heavily geared towards atmosphere than anything else, not offering much of anything in the way of new scares. There are a few quick snippets used to add some additional color to the Japanese backdrop: Jane munching on some McDonald's in the rain and trying to make sense of TV in Tokyo, to rattle off a couple. Quite a few scenes are greatly extended -- the opening wedding sequence runs a lot longer, their jaunt to a slightly spooky Japanese home includes a sizeable appearance by a character completely trimmed out of the movie proper, and there's a funeral that's only briefly glimpsed in the unrated cut. The marketing blurb on the back of the case boasts about the disc's alternate ending, but the difference is pretty marginal.

Shutter veers away from the standard issue making-of featurette, spreading the usual talking points across a couple of different extras, each with a good bit of behind-the-scenes footage scattered
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across 'em. "A Cultural Divide: Shooting in Japan" (9 min.) tackles the cultural and language barrier with an American film shoot setting up shop in Tokyo with a director who doesn't speak a lick of English. The highlight would have to be a quick chat with Rachael Taylor's stunt double, an unassuming Japanese guy draped in a hysterically goofy blonde wig. "A Ghost in the Lens" (8 min.) focuses on the role of ghosts in Japanese culture and how Shutter's story had to be adjusted a bit for the material to translate reasonably well to these shores. The featurette notes how differently spirits are generally perceived across the two cultures -- more corporeal in Japan as opposed to the ethereal ghosties in the U.S. -- and how Shutter's crew emphasized practical effects instead of CGI whenever possible.

Several of the extras are anchored around the concept of spirit photography, beginning with a five minute featurette tracing the phenomenon's history back to William H. Mumler's 'ghost camera' in the 1860s and its outgrowth of the spiritualist movement. There's a quick Photoshop tutorial on how to toss ghosts into your own shots (4 min.), along with a campy investigation into spirit photography from some random Japanese tabloid show. There are three segments from the show that can be viewed individually or played all at once, and the VHS-dubbed footage runs 17 minutes in total.

If you're feeling up to skulking around a graveyard to snap your own spooooky photos, the disc also packs on tips and tricks for tracking down the spirits of the dead. Golly, where do you go to look for ghosts? What time should I set my alarm for? How can I be sure to capture 'em on film? What should I pack with me? Don't fret -- all of these questions are cheerfully answered in this two and a half minute featurette, although like several of the extras on this set, it really could've used a quick spellcheck.

The rest of the extras are more squarely focused on the movie's personalities. "In Character with Joshua Jackson" (2 min.) is a promotional piece with the actor dishing out a little insight into his character -- the emotional disconnect and voyeuristic nature of a photographer -- in between a quick barrage of clips from the movie. Director Masayuki Ochiai appears only briefly in any of the extras on this disc, but he does turn up for a 9 minute Q&A. Ochiai fields questions about what attracted him to this project in the first place, the differences between his remake and the original Thai film, the recurring theme of long-haired, bleached white spirits in Japanese horror, and whether or not he himself believes in spirit photography. The last of these interviews is a five and a half minute chat with screenwriter Luke Dawson, and it's the meatiest and most substantial of the bunch. Some of the topics include how the different cultural sensibilities between the U.S. and Japan influence their approaches to horror, how seamlessly a ghost story fits in with the disorientation of being a stranger in a strange land, J-horror's disinterest in tight plotting in favor of skewed visuals, and his time trotting around Tokyo and the movie set itself.

Conclusion: Shutter is a notch above the recent glut of Asian horror retreads, but it's still too limp and lacking in any meaningful scares for me to recommend buying sight-unseen. If you caught Shutter theatrically and dug it, though, at least Fox has put together a reasonably slick package on Blu-ray. Rent It.
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