I’ll admit that, having seen the recent remakes of The Eye and One Missed Call, I didn’t exactly have high hopes for Shutter. Based on the 2004 Thai film of the same name, Shutter contains many predictable South-East Asian horror elements - I would describe it as ‘j-horror’, if that term were not geographically inaccurate.
Directed by Masayuki Ochiai (Kansen, Saimin), and scripted by relative newcomer, Luke Dawson (whose only past credit is 2003’s New York Stories), Shutter explores the idea of horror in photography. There were rumours that the film was related to the Project Zero (Fatal Frame) games, due to the photographic element, but there’s no truth in this. All they have in common is the camera. The plot, in a nutshell, is very simple. Newlyweds Jane (Rachael Taylor) and Ben (Joshua Jackson) head to Tokyo on their honeymoon, which is also a business trip for Ben the photographer. But then weird things start to happen, heralded by the strange lights which appear on their photos, and the spooky dark-haired girl who suddenly seems to be everywhere.
A lot of people may start rolling their eyes at this point, and I really couldn’t blame them. We’ve seen spooky dark-haired girls in white killing people through TV sets, spooky dark-haired girls in white killing people through mobile phones…and now a camera. What next, a haunted iPod? I know South-East Asia appears to have a large number of talented horror writers and directors - much like the French and romance - but haven’t we all had enough of these American remakes?
By the way, if you were wondering, traditional Japanese burial techniques involve loose hair and a white kimono, which is why people dressed that way are considered spooky. Now you know. Don’t say I never teach you anything.
Anyway, getting back to the film, there are some very interesting ways to use cameras in horror movies, as this film demonstrates. One of the best moments include a darkened room, illuminated only by the regular flash of a camera. The audience catches small glimpses of the obligatory dark-haired girl in white, in a flickering, fear-inducing scene that had me mildly concerned for the epileptics in the audience, never mind the characters onscreen.
One major strength of this film is the directing and the script. It’s not perfect, but there is one fantastic Ring-reference which is carried out wonderfully, and doesn’t involve a single TV set or circle. That scene alone could carry the film, and it’s a pity that kind of brilliance can’t be kept up for the full length. With the mandatory cynical non-believer (in the face of all evidence), the traditional ‘they think it’s all over’ moment (it isn‘t), the relatively few gruesome scenes (involving decay, flies and an extremely long tongue), the medium who has studied whatever the problem is, and yet is too scared to help in this case, the casual friend who just happens to know exactly where to point them in order to understand what’s going on, and all the horror film stereotypes (people walking around in haunted places instead of running for their lives like sensible, life-loving human beings), much of this film slips right back down to average. I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t seen any of the writer or director’s other works, but I would love to see how this team handle more original horror. The characters and their decisions are somewhat refreshing, although there are still quite a few cliches. I particularly loved Jane -Rachael Taylor’s - last few scenes, both due to her acting and the scenes themselves.
The cast is a fairly talented, although low-key set of individuals. Megumi Okina has also starred in the original Ju-on (The Grudge) movie, while Rachael Taylor played a supporting role in transformers. Both play their parts very well, although there is nothing particularly breath-taking in either performance. I don’t feel that Joshua Jackson really does justice to his role as Ben. At least, not until the end-scenes, when his performance really comes into it’s own, by which point it’s far too late. One area where the film really does suffer is in the lack of love one feels for the characters. I’m not worried about them, and I’m not upset when they’re in danger - a fact which weakens some of the more emotional or nerve-wracking moments. One thing you have to wonder about - why don’t these characters cling to each other more? Wouldn’t that be everyone’s first reaction to spooky situations?
With my overactive imagination, I’ll admit that horror movies aren’t my favourite, but this film didn’t scare me so much. There are some spooky moments, and perhaps it’s just me getting braver, but the spookiest horror film of this year is still, in my eyes, The Orphanage. To be fair, one of the spookier scenes in Shutter does seem to have stemmed from the same basic idea as one of the scene in The Orphanage - just not carried out nearly so well.
All in all, one of the better Asian horror remakes. Still, as I said, I would love to see this writer/director team handle something more original. The cast, I can take or leave.
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