Review Date: August 29, 2008
Released by: Fox
Release date: 7/15/2008
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
It’s hard to believe it now, but there was once a time when, upon discovering a really good foreign film from outside the English speaking world, Hollywood would find a relatively simple solution in the nearest recording studio by dubbing it and throwing it out onto the theatrical circuit. The fact that a given movie might be dubbed didn’t stop many films from becoming huge commercial successes. But times change, and when audiences are still unwilling to read subtitles and critics are even more unforgiving of dubbed films, Hollywood finds itself with little choice but to do what its always done best: burn through huge amounts of money. Such is the logic that started with the American version of The Ring
in 2002 and has expanded into profitable sub-industry remaking Asian horror films for American theaters. The latest product on the assembly line has become Shutter
, a new version of yet another creepy Asian horror thriller. Surprisingly, this time around Hollywood has chosen to remake a Thai, rather than Japanese, production. Although I have not had the privilege of seeing the original, it is generally well regarded by fans. Now the remake is available in an extended, unrated DVD that replaces the watered-down PG-13 version seen recently in theaters.
Meet Ben Shaw (Joshua Jackson
) and his new bride Jane (Rachael Taylor
). This attractive pair of newlyweds have just tied the knot and are now on their way to Japan for a working honeymoon where Ben, being an acclaimed photographer, will be working on a shoot for a Japanese client. Although this will be Jane’s first visit to the country, Ben has worked in Japan before and speaks the language fluently. Arriving in Tokyo the couple drives out into the countryside for a few days of newlywed bliss at a rented cabin before Ben has to start work. As they drive late at night on a snowy and desolate road Jane realizes that she is lost, and as she wakes up the sleeping Ben for help with directions she suddenly looks out into the road and sees a Japanese woman standing there in a nightgown! With no time to react the car hits the woman and then careens off the road, hitting a tree. When Jane and Ben come to there’s no sign of the girl. The police search the woods and call the local hospitals, but find no evidence that they actually hit someone. With no reason to hold them, the police let the couple go and write off the incident as Jane just hitting an animal she thought was a person. Ben, who didn’t see anything, assures Jane that there wasn’t really a girl and she was just exhausted from the trip.
The couple returns to Tokyo soon after and Jane is introduced to two of her husband’s work friends living in the city, the suave Adam (John Hensley
) and the jockish Bruno (David Denman
). Ben’s clients put them up in a penthouse suite and he gets to work on the shoot. But almost immediately strange things begin happening. Several pictures the couple took of themselves in front of Mt. Fuji come back with a ghostly image on them, and then while out exploring Tokyo on her own Jane takes several photos that have the same problem. Ben’s Japanese assistant Seiko (Maya Hazen
) identifies them as “spirit photos” of supernatural phenomena and takes Jane to meet her ex-boyfriend, who runs a magazine that publishes such pictures. Although Jane witnesses the magazine staff faking photos on their computers, she is assured that real spirit photos do exist and is shown a room full of authentic ones.
Meanwhile, Ben has been busy on his photo shoot, but gets a nasty surprise when he develops the film and discovers the ghost-like images are on those pictures as well. Assuming that light leaked into the camera, Ben is almost fired for ruining the shots (although in this modern age of Photoshop the problems with the pictures, which are shown to the audience, should be easily correctible). Jane assumes that the ghost of the girl on the highway is responsible for it all, but as she uncovers more and more evidence it becomes apparent that what happened on the road was no random accident, and that the girl was not a simple pedestrian but someone from her husband’s past, someone that represents a deep, dark secret that Ben has been hiding from her…
was released in theaters this past March, reviewers were denied an advance preview screening, something that is usually a sure sign of trouble. While the film is never terrible, and would probably have survived a screening for the critics, it also fails to live up to the promise of its concept. The production is respectable from a technical standpoint, the actors don’t embarrass themselves or each other, and the more gullible audience members may even be scared one or twice. But the movie fails to cross the threshold into what makes the best Asian horror films so frightening. Don’t be fooled by the fact that the movie was filmed in Japan with a Japanese director at the helm. This is big Hollywood horror filmmaking all the way.
As a remake of an Asian horror film, it is helpful to examine the context in which ghosts are presented in eastern cinema compared to our own. The package of screener discs that delivered Shutter
to my doorstep contained another story of the supernatural, the direct-to-DVD film Asylum
about a college dormitory haunted by the ghost of a homicidal doctor, and watching the two films almost back-to-back I was struck by the differences between the two productions. It was not the difference in quality that struck me (Asylum
is downright terrible, while Shutter
is only mediocre) – it was the difference in the way the two films treated the supernatural, almost as reflections on the difference between the way ghosts are viewed in eastern and western cultures. The world of the Asian ghost story is generally not one of random evil. Rather, they are worlds where the spirit serves as a mechanism for vengeance against wrongs committed in life. If a character in an Asian horror film finds him or herself being haunted, it’s usually because they’ve done something to deserve it. Ghosts may make themselves visible to innocent characters (as is the case with Jane in this movie), but they’re not interested in taking out their aggressions on them. What the ghost prefers to do is not to directly harm the person that they are after, but rather, to drive them to the brink mentally, inducing a condition where they either kill themselves or otherwise open the way for their own demise.
The idea of spiritual revenge is not unique to Asian cultures, and many western horror films also use it as a theme. The difference though is that in the west those stories have to share space with movies like Asylum
, which basically use the ghost as a stand-in for the homicidal slasher. These are films in which the ghost is not looking for anything specific, but rather, is simply looking to unleash its negative energy. It’s the type of ghost that always shows up in those clichéd movie situations where the teenagers or young adults dare each other to go into the haunted house, or go there to have sex or party, and meet an angry spirit that will more or less kill anybody it runs across.
Despite being a Hollywood film in so many ways, the American version of Shutter
still retains enough of its Asian origins to fall into the same camp as the real Asian horror films that have been delighting fans ever since the original Ringu
. Of the three people in the film who are haunted, two die, one by suicide, and one, in an apparent deviation from the formula, is killed in a freak accident that is caused by the ghost. But the spirit pays particular attention to the character of Ben, first ruining his job, then driving his wife away, and finally taking his own sanity. But that doesn’t make it better than the average Hollywood horror film, just different. As hard as director Masayuki Ochiai may have tried to make a movie that was genuinely spine chilling while still faithful to the original, it too often falls flat to make a genuine impact. Shutter
is still just another forgettable, glossy big studio horror film, and it can’t leave much impression on the viewer.
This DVD presents the film in its proper 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio, and is enhanced for 16x9 displays. As one would expect from a brand new, big studio film, image quality is close to pristine. This is not a movie with a lot of bright, punchy colors, but the transfer does perfectly reproduce the occasionally vivid hues of human blood being spilled. Flesh tones appear natural, there is no print damage except for a few very minor specks, and shadow detail is immaculate. The image has a bold, deep look to it.
is only given one English-language option, and that is a Dolby 5.1 Surround track. As one would expect from a big studio film, this mix is a thoroughly professional job with a nice use of rear channels, especially when used to convey the ambient noises that surround the characters in some scenes. The soundtrack is loud when it needs to be, quiet when necessary, but never so unbalanced that dialogue is hard to understand. There is no audible distortion or background noise on the track.
There are also 2.0 Surround tracks in Spanish and French, as well as English and Spanish subtitles.
First up we are treated to a lively commentary track with star Rachael Taylor, executive producer Alex Sundell and screenwriter Luke Dawson. Sundell and Taylor talk the most, but Dawson chimes in frequently. Taylor (here making no effort to suppress her Australian accent) talks about the challenges in making Jane’s character believable and how she interpreted the role, while the other two participants discuss the peculiarities of shooting with a Japanese director and crew and the differences between this version of Shutter
and the Thai original. From their discussion we get a definite feel for the respect for the original film that they held, while at the same time they come across as a little bit confused by what makes so many modern Asian horror films so scary and compelling.
The commentary is followed by a number of short featurettes that prove to be surprisingly informative and more than the usual electronic press kit fluff that studios sometimes like to pass off in the place of real supplements. The first two are titled, respectively, A Ghost in the Lens
and A Cultural Divide: Shooting in Japan
and feature interviews with, amongst others, Joshua Jackson, Rachael Taylor, producer Roy Lee and other members of the cast and crew. The first featurette the interview participants share their thought on the project as a whole and how they interpret the supernatural aspect of the plot. The second featurette they talk about the differences between shooting films in America and shooting in Japan, the cultural differences that they encountered and, for the actors, what it was like working for a director who spoke no English and had to work through an interpreter.
The next featurette is an interview with director Masayuki Ochiai, who spends nearly ten minutes discussing what he chose to drop or retain from the original Thai film, his thoughts on the supernatural and spirit photography, and a strange encounter he himself had after filming a project on ghosts in the United States. Ochiai also takes time to explain the cultural significance in Japan of the female ghost with long black hair, an image that has become indelibly identified with Japanese horror films in the minds of western audiences.
This is followed by an interview with writer Luke Dawson who discusses the genesis behind the decision to locate the film in Japan (the original draft of the American version set it in New York City), his thoughts on the differences between the writing styles of Asian films compared to American films, and his realization that as good as the Internet was for research on Japan, nothing could beat the experience he got when the studio actually flew him there to work on the story.
Up next are a group of three featurettes dealing with spirit photography. A History of Spirit Photography
provides a brief overview of how the first spirit photos came into being and how the boom in spirit photography fit into the larger American spiritualist movement. After that we have a featurette called Create Your Own Phantom Photo
that shows you how to create your own spirit pictures using photo editing software. The last featurette is called The Hunt for the Haunt
and it is little more than animated text telling viewers how to be amateur ghost hunters.
Although the version of Shutter
presented here is unrated version that contains more footage than the theatrical cut, there was still a fair amount of material that didn’t make it in, and we get ten alternate and deleted scenes presented in non-anamorphic 1.85:1. Most of them add nothing to the story and were easily lost, although several might have been effective if left in. There’s also an alternate ending that is only slightly different than the final ending.
The extras are finished off with trailers for the direct-to-DVD flicks Pathology
and Joy Ride 2: Dead Ahead
, and a special advance preview trailer for the Kiefer Sutherland horror film Mirrors
which just hit theaters.
Hollywood strikes again, with another great-looking, great-sounding, extras-laden special edition of a mediocre and unmemorable film. For those out there who did enjoy the movie, there’s no reason not to own this unrated edition (just beware of the PG-13 version, which has also been released, but in full screen only), but for those who haven’t seen this title yet a rental is advisable, or just wait a few months for Hollywood and Blockbuster to start selling their extra copies for cheap.
Movie – C
Image Quality – A
Sound – A
Supplements – A-
- Running Time – 1 hour 29 minutes
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English 5.1 Surround
- Spanish 2.0 Surround
- French 2.0 Surround
- English subtitles
- Spanish subtitles
- Audio commentary by star Rachael Taylor, executive producer Alex Sundell and screenwriter Luke Dawson
- A Ghost in the Lens featurette
- A Cultural Divide: Shooting in Japan featurette
- Interview with Masayuki Ochiai
- Interview with Luke Dawson
- A History of Spirit Photography featurette
- Create Your Own Phantom Photo featurette
- The Hunt for the Haunt featurette
- Deleted scenes
- Alternate ending