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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Shutter

Shuttering in the Dark. Another Asian horror

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Nighthas fallen on a remote, deserted highway. A young married couple drives sleepily through the darkness toward their honeymoon cabin near Japan’s Mount Fuji when a gaunt, staring woman wanders into the road and is struck by their speeding car. When the couple regains consciousness after doing a figure-eight down a ravine, they can’t find the woman’s body.

But the body will find them, turning up especially in photographs. Sound slightly familiar? Shutter is the Hollywood remake of a Thai horror movie, one of many American re-shoots of East Asian horror pictures in recent years, and contains many elements common to similar films. Shutter has several chilling moments, but the emotional-psychological undercurrent is stronger than the spook show. It’s a movie that addresses a stark question to the women in the audience: Just how well do you know your man? Partly filmed in Japan under Japanese director Masayuki Ochiai, Shutter is set amid the glamorous, high-end milieu of fashion photography. Ben (Joshua Jackson) is a professional flown in from New York to shoot a series of expensive, glossy magazine spreads. Strange blurs are marring both his photographs and the digital pictures casually snapped by his wife, Jane (Rachael Taylor), as she wanders the sensory overload of Tokyo. Soon enough the blurs coalesce into the misty image of the gaunt, staring woman on the road. And before you can shout “Ghostbuster!” she is glimpsed around the Architectural Digest-worthy loft where Ben and Jane are staying, announced by unsettling scampering sounds at the edge of human hearing. Meanwhile, Jane is beginning to wonder about Ben. She casts a wary glance at Yoko, the photo assistant who acts a bit too familiar with him, and at another female helper, Seiko, who seems a little too hands-on. Ben had worked in Tokyo before and perhaps a wife must be willing to shrug off her husband’s past. The present is another story.

Emotional fissures begin to open between them when Ben coldly dismisses her idea that something uncanny is happening. “I’m not your father,” Ben snaps at Jane, accusing her of craving attention. Little by little Ben’s hand is revealed. He’s been hiding a bad streak of callous insensitivity, not too mention a proclivity for Japanese girls. And when Jane establishes that he knew the gaunt, staring woman from a previous sojourn in Tokyo, worse suspicions begin to stir.

Not every story line in Shutter is well plotted and several fright scenes could have been staged more effectively. Yet, Shutter is often handsomely filmed and makes good use of the photographic medium as a window between the worlds of the living and the dead. Alleged pictures of ghosts or spectral beings have been produced since the time of the Civil War, when photography was still novel; legends of the camera’s ability to detect the unseen have persisted into the age of cyberspace. In Shutter at least, the darkroom can become a place of terror when a horrible truth buried under evasions and denials swims into view from the photographer’s chemicals. The gaunt, staring ghost represents a past that won’t lie still until its claims on the present are met.