Review: Shutter

Shutter, the latest in the Asian/American horror film exchange program, is one of the weaker entries, although it still has enough chills to make it a decent Friday night date film. The story is typical horror film fare: photographer Ben Shaw (Joshua Jackson) and his wife Jane (Rachael Taylor) get married and move to Japan where Ben has a job. For Ben, this is his second tour in Japan, having lived there two years earlier working for the same company. This time, though, since he’s newly married, he and his wife spend a few days honeymooning. As Jane drives the couple to an idyllic cabin in the shadow of Mt. Fuji, a ghostly female figure appears on the road. Jane can’t get out of the way fast enough and runs the girl down, crashing the car in the process. Of course, when she and Ben examine the road, no body is found. Like I said, typical.

Where Shutter diverges is in the pictures Ben takes of the couple. When they get the pictures back, there’s a weird ghost image on the film. This image keeps showing up and eventually Jane recognizes the girl as the one she hit on the road. Obviously, there’s a connection we’re not seeing and sure enough, as Shutter winds its way through 85 minutes everything gets answered. Now, if you’ve seen a few horror films in your day, as I have, none of these answers come as a complete surprise. There’s a few slight variations on a theme, but really, there’s nothing terribly original in the story here.

Originality comes into play in the filmmaking itself. Director Masayuki Ochiai is able to infuse a fair bit of suspense with clever use of lighting and sound effects. In one scene in particular, Ben confronts the spirit in almost complete darkness, the only lighting coming from intermittent flashes of the strobe lights set up for a photo shoot. We get glimpses of the ghost as she gets closer and closer to Ben and this, combined with a scary score, provides one of the true frightening sequences in the film. For most of the other scares, though, Ochiai relies on “surprise tactics,” where something jumps out or there’s a sudden change in conditions so we, as an audience, are jolted, not by terror but by surprise. By the end of the film, this technique has been used so often we almost become immune to it.

Unfortunately, Joshua Jackson doesn’t help much. He is not really up to the task, delivering a performance which is wooden and rote. We never really get the terror he’s supposed to be feeling. Rachael Taylor is a little better, but her constant look of concern doesn’t give her much emotional room for growth.

Now, I know, we’re not looking at films like Shutter for deep character development and intricate plots, but without them, there’s nothing for the audience to grab on to. If we don’t care about the characters we can’t get scared when they are in danger, if the plot isn’t intricate, we’ll get bored. With Shutter, it’s almost there. There are glimpses of something incredibly creepy, but in the end, it’s just slightly underdeveloped.

(originally published on

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