DVD Review: Fox’s Unrated ‘Shutter’

Arriving on DVD this Tuesday from Fox Home Entertainment is Masayuki Ochiai’s remake of Shutter (review), which arrives with extra features and completely unrated (whatever that means). Today Tex sent in his thoughts on the DVD release, which can be found by reading on. Don’t forget you can write your own reviews here. A newly married couple discovers disturbing, ghostly images in photographs they develop after a tragic accident. Fearing the manifestations may be connected, they investigate and learn that some mysteries are better left unsolved.

Shutter

Let’s face it, SHUTTER has some serious problems. It’s another in a regretfully never-ending succession of Asian Horror remakes that fails to capture what makes the original films memorable. It also illustrates what I fear could be a disturbing new trend; U.S. productions employing successful J-Horror filmmakers and then—for reasons unknown—delivering castrated films with virtually none of the signature style that the genre is known for. It happened before with Hideo Nakawa on THE RING TWO and to some extent with Takashi Shimizu on THE GRUDGE 2 and it tragically happens again here with INFECTION director Masayuki Ochiai.

SHUTTER is the story of a newlywed couple, Ben (Joshua Jackson) and Jane (Rachael Taylor) who after their honeymoon near Mt. Fuji settle into life in Tokyo where Ben—a successful photographer—is shooting an expensive ad campaign. Unfortunately, the honeymoon is short lived as Jane hits a woman standing in the middle of the road on a cold night outside of town. Now the pair seems to be haunted by a spirit (Megumi Tanaka, typecast since JU-ON) that can only be seen in photographs. As Jane tries to unravel the mystery behind the shadowy images caught on film, she discovers that Ben has a ghost of his own hiding in the past.

While SHUTTER is not a shot-for-shot remake of the 2004 Taiwanese film, most of the major scare scenes and the skeleton structure of the story remain intact. So, how does this film suffer so drastically when the names and faces have more or less stayed the same? Simple, SHUTTER has no atmosphere and in J-Horror or K-Horror or anything floating our way from the Pacific Rim, atmosphere is king. The very fact that the film employs a Japanese filmmaker should have made it a slam dunk for mood, but in the end, the flat cinematography and the overall look of the film never lend themselves to any sense of foreboding. Simply put, the film’s not creepy, it’s not scary and even the final reveal—although it’s lifted directly from the previous film—is not as effective.

SHUTTER also has one other major problem…and this problem is a Spoiler. So, if you haven’t see this film yet and are planning to do so, I’d recommend skipping the rest of this review or heading straight to the DVD Special Features overview.

In the original film as in the re-make, the whole haunting is Ben’s fault. Ben is not a good guy and in both films, Jane learns that the Spirit is trying to tell her this. In the original it is clear that Ben is witness to, and since he does nothing to help, also a conspirator and participator in the rape of the ghost character. In the remake, perhaps toned down for American audiences and designed to make Ben a slightly better guy, they don’t really say that the girl was raped. Maybe she was, maybe she wasn’t? Either way, Ben was responsible for her exploitation. The thing is, in the original, even after the reveal of the rape, I think we can still sympathize with that film’s Ben. But, in this one, because Joshua Jackson’s Ben is more or less a jerk for the bulk of the movie, we’re kinda glad to see him get his comeuppance. So, who’s our sympathy go to in the film? The wife? Well…the ghost really isn’t after her now is she? So, Jane’s misfortune is only that she married a scumbag. In the end, she’ll be fine, and the film is really just a mystery that once solved provides no real satisfying closure.

The resolution to the real mystery behind the film’s failure is addressed almost perfectly in the DVD special features. So, let’s take a look and see what the Special Edition has to offer.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES

“I personally hate ghosts, and I personally don’t want to watch ghost movies” – Masayuki Ochiai, Director: SHUTTER.

There are a few problems I find with the statement above as a horror movie fan. But, then there is the critically analytical part of me that sees no correlation with ones personal feelings and their ability to do their job. This sentence is uttered in the special feature THE DIRECTOR: MASAYUKI OCHIAI (9:30). It’s the third special feature on the Unrated DVD Edition of the film, but it’s the first I want to address. This featurette is a simple interview with the director discussing his reasons for taking on the project, the history of Kaidan—or ghost stories—in Japan, and a few questions about paying respect to the original film. It’s here that the director owns up to his personal feelings about ghost stories before going on to say why he likes the original production. It’s not a backhanded compliment per se but it might be insightful in our speculation that Ochiai took the job of Directing SHUTTER for simply that of a Hollywood paycheck. And, while I’m not totally blaming the failure of the film on Ochiai—since he didn’t script it—I do blame the film’s lack of tension, terror and visual intrigue on him. Since Ochiai doesn’t “want to watch ghost movies” it stands to reason that he might not know how to make one—or at least a scary one. Of course that might not be true reality since INFECTION is certainly a creepy flick…but this time…it feels true.

OK with that bit out there and giving you something to chew on, let’s take a look at the rest of the special features.

A GHOST IN THE LENS (8:16) is more or less the making of segment here, featuring interviews with writer, Luke Dawson and the principal actors, Jackson and Taylor. This featurette also begins to touch on the subject of Spirit Photography and it’s prevalence in Japanese society—a subject that will get a further look later on in the disc.

A CULTURAL DIVIDE: SHOOTING IN JAPAN (9:26). This one is pretty self-explanatory and it addresses some of the problems which arose due to the fact that Ochiai spoke no English and the bulk of the lead actors on-set spoke no Japanese. The film illustrates some of the tedium of discussing characterization, motivation, and performance nuance with the director through set interpreter Chio Asada. Of note, it’s also interesting that at one point, actress Rachael Taylor simply states that she thinks “something is lost in translation” in these conversations.

A CONVERSATION WITH LUKE DAWSON (5:32) is simply that. And Dawson primarily discusses the transfer of the film’s setting which he had intended to have moved from Bangkok to New York but ultimately decided to stage in Tokyo.

The next two featurettes revisit the subject of Spirit Photography. The first, A HISTORY OF SPIRIT PHOTOGRAPHY (4:49) gives a basic background on the phenomena beginning with the first reported instance in 1861 through the advent of the Spiritualist movement in the mid 1800’s through the early 1900’s. Although the documentary doesn’t entirely debunk the myth as a complete fabrication it never provides any compelling argument for the validity of the subject either. Of course the second featurette pretty much solves that mystery, or at least the mystery of how the visual effects department created the spooky photos for the film. CREATE YOUR OWN PHANTOM PHOTO (3:59) shows tech savvy computer geeks with access to Photoshop how to render your own personal Spirit Photograph. If nothing else, it shows the interested that with a little practice, it only takes about three minutes to create a little motion picture magic right in your own home.

THE HUNT FOR THE HAUNT: TOOLS AND TIPS FOR GHOST HUNTING (2:28) might just be the worst special edition featurette that I’ve ever bore witness to. Nothing more than a series of written instructions—set against a foggy backdrop—instructing what I can only assume are people with no lives or a 3rd grade education level on the nuances of ghost hunting. Things like: “Try cemeteries at midnight” or “Bring more than one camera” and my personal favorite location suggestion “Usually a place you think is haunted probably is”! Yikes.

Usually the treasure trove of the DVD Special Features is the ALTERNATE AND DELETED SCENES (14:17). Sadly this time around the 11 extras compiled here don’t really offer anything intriguing or special. Most add nothing to the story and with titles like “Jane Eats a Big Mac” you can see that they were likely all cut for time. Although after watching that little Chicken McNugget, I’m now feverishly curious to know if McDonald’s wanted their product placement cash back when those 15 seconds of film were trimmed. The Alternate Ending provides a moment of closure for Jane’s character, giving her a final few frames again at the end of the film, but in reality it doesn’t make the original ending any more or less poignant so it’s fair that they were snipped out as well. Ultimately, the deleted scenes are—like the film that they came from—nothing special.

In spite of what is clearly their overall intention to provide a glossy and consequently shallow overview of the production of SHUTTER, I found it extraordinarily interesting that just scratching beneath the surface of these fluffy featurettes provides some remarkable insight into why the film ultimately fails. It might be the fault of Ochiai because he doesn’t love his subgenre enough. It might be the fault of the producers for bringing in a director that can’t speak the same language as his lead actors. It might be because with the rapid proliferation of Asian Ghost stories the market is oversaturated and dull—a concern that Ochiai also touches on in his interview. Or, it might be a perfect storm of all of these aspects that simply joined together to create the typhoon of mediocrity that is SHUTTER

3/10