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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Shutter (Unrated)
Shutter (Unrated)
Fox // Unrated // July 15, 2008
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Cameron McGaughy | posted July 10, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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"Nowadays in Japan, the Japanese audience also got bored of seeing [the] long black-haired ghost of the girl in the movies."
- director Masayuki Ochiai

The Movie
From the cousin of the craft services supervisor on The Ring! And the babysitter of the boom operator on The Grudge! It's yet another American remake of an Asian horror film: Shudder! Whoops...I mean Shutter. Here we go again folks...didn't I just review this? (No, that was The Eye...)

What The Ring tried to do with your VCR and One Missed Call tried to do with your phone and Pulse tried to do with your wireless connection, Shutter attempts to do with your camera. It's yet another take on technology as terror, this one a remake of a 2004 Thai film. Let's see...stop me if you've seen this before: A creepy dead girl crawling across the floor, a crazed victim jumping off a balcony, a fantasy fly coming to life, a slowly unveiled murder from the past, a ghost tongue that would do Gene Simmons proud...oh, sorry! You stopped me a while ago.

Photographer Ben (Joshua Jackson) has just married Jane (Rachael Taylor), but instead of a honeymoon he takes her from Brooklyn to Japan for his job. He's returning after a two-year absence, meeting up with his two amigos: the shady Bruno (David Denman, best known as Pam's former fiancé Roy on The Office) and Adam (John Hensley of Teeth). But before the couple arrives at their new loft (in a conveniently deserted building), a drive down a dark road rattles them--Jane hits a mysterious woman who appears out of nowhere, then hits a tree before the two pass out. Upon waking, there's no trace of any body. Ben easily moves on from the incident, but Jane can't shake the feeling that something mysterious is at work.

She gets even more suspicious when she sees photographs of her and Ben, which have an odd blur in them. Ben thinks it's just a problem with the camera, but Jane eventually decides to investigate, convinced it may be "spirit photography" that holds some secret. After talking to the editor of a specialty magazine, she learns that a spirit may be trying to tell her something. Ben starts seeing ghosts as well, forcing them to consult a medium who tells them that emotional energy can be communicated on film. Is their apparition dead or alive? And just what secret is Jane about to uncover?

It's all par for the course if you've seen any one of the films it mimics--originals or remakes. Director Masayuki Ochiai tries to relay a sense of unease by putting cameras, viewfinders, photographs and lenses in many scenes, placing them in various positions to keep you uncomfortably aware. While he has some subtle success in the beginning, there's only so far you can go with the concept--and after a while, the sound of a flash warming up for a shot stops sounding scary and starts sounding silly. There was one sequence I enjoyed, with Jackson caught in the dark at the mercy of his camera's flash, but most of the chills here are lukewarm.

This disc presents the "unrated" cut, which has four more minutes than the theatrical release. I never saw the original, but don't expect anything gory or scary here. There's not four minutes worth of content that could be considered objectionable, so I'm guessing you also get some previously unseen "character development". It's still a PG-13 film, and the stalking scenes and special effects are quite tame--while a few of the attack scenes are just plain hokey. There's also a wealth of stupid fake-outs with loud musical cues.

If this film hoped to succeed, it had to do so with its slow-building mood and atmosphere, and the unveiling of its back-story. But none of those elements are original or strong enough to make this memorable (speaking of back story, the final revelation made me laugh--and I don't think that was the intent). The mystery could have been handled a lot better. The elements are here for a much better film, to no avail. The cast and direction are adequate--Taylor does a decent enough job with the material, but Jackson is a little too likeable to pull off some of his character's traits.

The few location shots of Japan that we see are gorgeous--I wish the film made the locale more central to the mystery. In the end, this is just another entry in a long line of remakes from an increasingly clichéd genre. I enjoyed it slightly more than The Eye, which isn't saying much.

The DVD

Video:
The screener disc supplied for this review doesn't necessarily reflect the final product. Shutter arrives in an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer. The film is frequently shot in cold color schemes, and overall looks decent. There was some noticeable aliasing, and colors sometimes seemed slightly bright. There was some mild noise in the background, and a very brief pixilation problem in the 79th minute that was probably an individual disc defect.

Audio:
The 5.1 track is the main offering, and it's a pretty strong surround experience, with a variety of sounds used effectively to place you within the action. In a few scenes, some lines of dialogue were a tad too faint, not balanced very well with the score. You can also select Spanish and French 2.0 surround, and subtitles are available in English and Spanish.

Extras:
An ample offering of extras round out the package, although there's a lot of idea repetition. Up first is an audio commentary with production executive Alex Sundell, screenwriter Luke Dawson and actress Rachael Taylor. While some of the discussion points are interesting for admirers of the film, a large portion of the track is spent talking about obvious plot points and character motivations--things that would be obvious to anyone who watched the movie. Sundell gets in the most time, and while she has a lot to say, she sometimes sounds like she's in a hurry to be somewhere--there's a mechanical, fast, almost book report quality to her musings (I'll stop short of saying that she sometimes sounds annoyed; it's a close call). I got a chuckle every time she uses the term "stranger in a strange land" to describe Taylor's character (it's a new drinking game!). Taylor is the most personable of the three, while Dawson mostly fades into the background. The track touches upon the challenge of shooting in Japan, story changes from the Thai original and translating the effort to an American audience. The three also point out some of the scenes that weren't in the theatrical cut.

There are 11 alternate/deleted scenes, which are about as scintillating as they sound: "Jane Eats a Big Mac", "Jane Watches TV", "Jane Gets Directions", "See Jane Run" (...okay, I made that last one up). The alternate ending is pretty much the same ending with one minor addition, like many of the extended scenes. There's no extra gore (just a deformed face), and one deleted scene makes me wonder if the writer even knew what emotions he wanted to elicit toward Jackson's character.

Up next are seven featurettes of varying interest, many of which use movie clips that account for some dead time. A Ghost in the Lens (8:08) is a collection of interviews (in black and white; the film clip are in color) with actors Joshua Jackson, Rachael Taylor and John Hensley; producer Roy Lee; writer Luke Dawson; and spirit photography expert Hideyuki Kokuho. They all provide general comments on the film as a whole, with nothing too intriguing. Lee says he's picky with his horror, and much prefers a slow-building anticipation of dread as opposed to "jump scares", which this film has plenty of.

Far more interesting is A Cultural Divide: Shooting in Japan (9:20). Jackson, Taylor, Lee and Dawson return, joined by David Denman, stunt man Shinji Noro and interpreter Chiho Asada. Director Masayuki Ochiai does not speak English, so Asada was a key player in translating everyone's ideas (one brief clip shows her talking with the director and Taylor on set). The feature talks about the cultural differences between Japan and the Western world, with the likeable Jackson coming across as a pretty genuine guy: "I just assume every day that I'm walking out the door that I'm a brute in a very polite culture. So I just assume I'm stepping on everybody's toes." But the funniest clip shows Noro donned in a blond woman's wig for one of the film's stunts, addressing the camera about the frequent gender-hopping he has to do for his work, including dying his leg hair: "Sometimes I'm required to dress up as a schoolgirl."

The Director: Masayuki Ochiai (9:28) is a subtitled interview, as the man talks about his attraction to the story, his respect for the original, mild alterations that were made, spirit photography and the landscape of J-Horror. He even notes that Japanese moviegoers have grown tired of the ever-present "long dark haired ghost woman" character: "The female ghost that reappears again and again in the Japanese horror films is because of our culture...we have so many similar stories like that."

A Conversation with Luke Dawson (5:30) sits down with the screenwriter, who talks about the birth and development of the script, as well as the differences between American and Japanese horror films--and what audiences want from them. "There's different sensibilities about what is scary in Japan and what is scary in the United States, and I think a lot of the success of those companies that are making J-Horror movies come from that different sensibility. It's a different aesthetic."

A History of Spirit Photography (4:42) covers the film's central idea, the "reproduction of a spiritual materialization or psychokinetic manifestation by film exposure." It credits American William H. Mumler, a Boston jeweler in the mid-1800s, as the father of the art form. It shows some older photos and links the phenomenon to the larger Modern Spiritualist Movement, a Christian effort that sought to make contact with the dead.

Create Your Own Phantom Photo (3:55) is an instructional piece that films two hands at work on a Mac as they make their own bogus spirit photo, while The Hunt for the Haunt: Tolls + Tips for Ghost Hunters (2:23) is a bunch of text tips for those seeking thrills. "Usually a place you think is haunted probably is." It encourages you to bring three cameras (!) and use all of them in your search, which should start at midnight in the obvious places (like abandoned buildings). It also helps if you have an electro magnetic field recorder, or EMF meter, so get cracking!

You get an "Inside Look" (a fancy label for trailer, or in this case a 1:43 film clip) of the upcoming theatrical release Mirrors, and trailers for five other releases.

Final Thoughts:
Yet another American remake of an Asian ghost tale, Shutter offers virtually nothing new to the genre. The spooks are light, the story is predictable and the minimal effects are cheesy. Don't let the "unrated" label tempt you--this is still a PG-13 film. I enjoyed it slightly more than The Eye, which isn't saying much. You can do worse for a night of escapism, but you can also do a lot better. Rent It.

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