The third U.S. remake of an Asian horror film in as many months, "Shutter" also continues the trend of paling in comparison to the original. Director Masayuki Ochiai (making his English-language debut) and screenwriter Luke Dawson stay reasonably faithful to the 2004 Thai picture of the same name, but have bizarrely deleted two of the creepiest set-pieces (one on a lonely nighttime road, the other on an apartment building ladder) in favor of dull, ineffective jump scares and listless, fakey CGI overload. When an actor can't even have their face pressed up against a pane of glass without it plainly looking like a computer-generated effect, it's a tell-tale sign of pure filmmaking laziness.
Newlyweds Benjamin (Joshua Jackson) and Jane (Rachael Taylor) have no sooner landed in Japan and taken in a few luscious sights when they run over a woman and crash their car on a secluded road. When they come to, Jane is perplexed to find that the woman has disappeared without a trace. Benjamin suggests that it may have been an animal they hit, but Jane is adamant about what she saw. Staying in a beautiful Tokyo loft while photographer Benjamin settles into his new job abroad, Jane starts seeing supernatural glimpses of the accident victim and becomes all the more convinced she's haunting them when strange spirit figures begin showing up in the pictures they've taken. The identity of the woman, it turns out, shares a closer tie to them than Jane knows.
"Shutter" holds a spookily good premise and retains the original Thai film's gangbusters twist ending that worked so well the first time. To get to this neat little conclusion, however, the viewer is forced to suffer through cheap scare tactics that don't work and inferior replays of scenes that aren't half as suspenseful and smartly conceived as they were before. Why bother remaking something if the director (or was it studio interference?) is incapable of improving upon things? Making matters worse are a number of illogical character actions that make you want to smack their daft faces. Why, for example, is Benjamin so reluctant to believe Jane's claims when he himself has already experienced multiple ghostly encounters of his own? Dumb writing such as this is inexcusable.
Rachael Taylor (2007's "Transformers
") turns in a go-getter performance as Jane, and is especially astute in the way she handles her character's unsavory discoveries of a man she loves, but doesn't quite know as well as she thought. Forgetting all of the stock horror elements, as a story about the gradual dissolution of a marriage, the film is on its most solid ground. As Benjamin, Joshua Jackson (2006's "Aurora Borealis
") is surprisingly weak, though, to be fair to an actor who has been excellent in the past, the screenplay does him no favors in portraying a character who isn't as likable as he should be. Benjamin comes off as distracted and short-tempered for most of the hurry-up-and-get-to-the-end 85-minute running time, and so it's difficult to sympathize with him or the revelations involving his past. The rest of the cast is superfluous and kept on the sidelines, though Meguma Okina (2003's "Ju-on: The Grudge") manages to be touching in flashbacks as a wallflower whose search for acceptance and love culminates in tragedy.
Segments early on in "Shutter" as Jane explores the foreign Japanese landscape she's been dropped into recalls 2003's transcendent "Lost in Translation
," aided in part by cinematographer Katsumi Yanagishima's (2006's "The Grudge 2
") sumptuous lensing. The aesthetic look of the film gives the proceedings an eloquence that it otherwise is sorely lacking. At the end of the day, "Shutter" is supposed to be a horror film meant to give viewers a case of the willies, and it is on this level that it most obviously fails. Hurt by a PG-13 rating that holds back on anything grotesque that hasn't been rendered by inappropriate CGI effects, the movie ultimately becomes little more than a series of derivative, predictable genre conventions without the necessary skill to back them up.