Thursday, October 2, 2008


Filmmakers have been shooting movies about ghosts as far back as 1898 when Gallic director Georges Méliès made "The Cave of the Demons," or as the French called it "La Caverne Maudite." Over a thousand movies since the Méliès cinematic short have been made about ghosts. Clearly, unlike some genres and characters, the ghost in a horror movie has proved to be a profitable if not always artistically successful staple of movie makers.

The new Joshua Jackson & Rachael Taylor supernatural saga "Shutter" (* out of ****) tries to imitate better Japanese horror thrillers like "The Ring" and "The Grudge." This tepid remake of the similarly titled 2004 Thailand tale of terror about a ghost bent on revenge lacks spirit. Incidentally, the American-made "Shutter" qualifies as the second remake behind the 2007 nail-biter produced in India as "Sivi." Unfortunately, Japanese director Masayuki Ochiai—making his English language film debut--scares up no memorable thrills or chills. If you've ever seen one Japanese chiller about a cadaverous, raven-haired dead girl in a shabby white dress that materializes and vanishes without a trace, then you are miles ahead of both Ochiai and sophomore scenarist Luke Dawson. Despite its attractive cast, atmospheric Nipponese locales, and lenser Katsumi Yanagijima's superlative cinematography, "Shutter" qualifies as a hopelessly predictable and dreadfully dull frightmare. Creeping along at a minimal 86 minutes, this Twentieth Century Fox release provides nothing that you haven't recoiled at in previous PG-13 rated ghost stories. Blood and gore are held to an absolute minimum. Although it wasn't designed to discriminate against American tourists in all likelihood, "Shutter" appears to be anti-American to the core. If you come to Japan, bad things will happen to you, especially if you take advantage of native girls.

Newlyweds Jane (Rachael Taylor of "Transformers") and Ben (Joshua Jackson of "The Skulls") travel to Tokyo where Ben has been hired by his old friend Bruno (David Denman of "The Replacements") to shoot high quality fashion photography. Actually, Ben has lived in Japan before and speaks with language fluently which puts his wife Jane somewhat at a disadvantage. Everything is love-dovey until Ben lets Jane do the driving late one night down a dark, freezing, snow-swept two-lane blacktop highway. The wraith of a young woman (Megumi Okina of the original movie The Grudge") suddenly appears in Jane's headlights in the middle of nowhere, and our heroine slams into her. Reeling from the shock and the impact, Jane loses control of their automobile and crashes into tree. Afterward, our married couple inspects the asphalt but neither can find any traces of either blood or a body. Later, when the authorities arrive, they cannot find anything. They believe Jane struck an animal and the beast fled into the darkness to die. Nevertheless, Jane cannot shake the eerie feeling that she really did hit a woman.

Not surprisingly, inexplicable things begin to occur to our twosome. Jane awakens from a nightmares about the accident, while Ben suffers from a pain in the neck. A doctor prescribes a pain-killer, but the medication has little effect. In an otherwise light-hearted scene, Ben programs his camera to snap pictures of Jane and him standing in front of Japan's breath-taking Mt. Fuji. When Jane and Ben look at the photos, they spot a smear of blinding white light on them. Of course, literal minded Ben contends that either he loaded the film improperly or the roll was defective when he bought it. Later, when Ben is shooting some expensive fashion stills, the same ghostly streaks mar his photos and he fears that he will lose his job because the budget cannot accommodate retakes. One of Ben's Japanese female assistants, Seiko (Maya Hazen), takes Jane to see her ex-boyfriend who runs a magazine devoted to 'spirit-photography' or pictures of ghosts. Interestingly, Ritsuo (James Kyson Lee), the editor of a magazine that publishes phony pictures of poltergeist phenomenon explains to Jane that the surest way to make certain that ghost streaks in a photo are genuine is to take pictures with a Polaroid camera. Since the picture is developed immediately, Ritsuo points out that the image couldn't have been tampered with by anybody. Jane takes his advice and sure enough she has a close encounter with this female ghost. Nothing that Jane can say, however, alters Ben's sense of disbelief.

Things grow progressively worse as the evil she ghost attacks one of Ben's friends Adam (John Hensley of Fox TV's "Nip/Tuck") and he dies under mysterious circumstances. Eventually, after Jane decides that she does believe in the supernatural, she has to wonder why this Japanese girl is attacking the men that work in Ben's photography studio. By this time, you'll figure out for yourself the scandal that happened and everything boils down to an ordinary murder mystery so predictable that "Shutter" doesn't have a ghost of a chance of either surprising or shocking you with its revelation. What's really incredible about this botched effort is that Japanese director Masayuki Ochiai blew it as badly as he did. Ochiai made an impressive horror movie in 2004 called "Infection" that has been available for rental in the United States. Granted, "Infection" contains more blood and gore than "Shutter," but "Infection" also generates a great deal of suspense and tension.

Altogether, "Shutter" is a utter waste of time.

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