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Yet Another Asian Horror Remake

Just when you thought it was safe to venture back into your local multiplex, along comes Shutter, the latest in a seemingly inexhaustible series of Asian horror remakes. Shutter closely follows the original film, co-written and co-directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom’s and released in Thailand five years ago. Outside of a semi-interesting premise involving so-called “spirit photography” and a handful of effective scares, lethargic pacing, superficial characters, and a weak mystery storyline undermined the original. That didn’t stop producers from picking up English-language remake rights, of course. And now here we are, with a remake that few horror fans are excited about (assuming they know anything about it).

Just married, Benjamin (Joshua Jackson) and Jane (Rachael Taylor) go to Tokyo, Japan. Ben’s there for a job working as a photographer for an old friend, Bruno (David Denman). Tagging along, Jane’s the proverbial stranger in a strange land. Unlike Ben, who lived in Japan and studied Japanese, Jane can’t speak the language and knows little of the culture. Hoping to spend some time together before Ben starts work, they drive out to a cabin.

Driving along a fog-bound road, Jane runs over (or thinks she runs over) a woman crossing the road. When Jane and Ben emerge from their car, the presumably injured (or dead) woman has disappeared. After the police arrive and find nothing, Ben convinces Jane that she either wasn’t hit or managed to limp away to get help on her own.

Back in Tokyo, Ben and Jane discover streaks of white light have ruined their vacation photos. Worse, the same thing happens to Ben’s first photo shoot. Thanks to Ben’s conveniently knowledgeable assistant, Seiko (Maya Hazen), Jane finds herself in the offices of a magazine dedicated to “spirit photography” (ghostly images embedded in seemingly innocuous photographs). There, the publisher, Ritsuo (James Kyson Lee), gives her a guided tour of the subject, talking about strong emotions, emotional attachment (presumably of ghosts for the living), and unfinished business. Jane, in detective mode, discovers a link between the dead or missing women, Bruno, and a mutual friend of theirs, Adam (John Hensley). What she discovers, of course, will upend everything she knows or thinks she knows.

Story wise, Shutter is short on narrative logic, often depending on characters acting contrary to common sense. Ben especially makes not just one bad decision, but several, one after the other (all of which makes him unsympathetic). Surprisingly for a photographer, Ben still lives in the pre-digital world of toxic chemicals and dark rooms (the better to create tension and suspense with a ghost lurking about). Jane is slightly better, but then again, as the heroine, she’s the de facto detective trying to figure out who the ghost is and what she really wants. To maximize claustrophobia and isolation, screenwriter Luke Dawson and director Masayuki Ochiai (Infection, Hypnosis) set a good deal of the action in Ben and Jane’s spacious apartment (they have the entire building to themselves as it’s under renovation).

Although Shutter has a few decent scares (some cheap, some not), and several gross-outs, the film also has a bland cast limply running through their lines and a by-the-numbers screenplay that telegraphs the “big reveal” to the mystery/thriller plot long before the central characters do. Ultimately, Shutter doesn’t so much improve on the flawed original as it sinks to the same, sub-par level. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that we’re done with Asian horror remakes. The remake of Ji-Woon Kim’s vastly superior psychological/supernatural horror film, A Tale of Two Sisters, will be released later this year.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars