J-Horror, baby, listen: you’ve had a
good long run, but it’s time to go. It’s been ten years since Ringu, and though you briefly caught our attention with a distinctly East Asian vision of horror, the wheels have been spinning ever since. This was partly because J-Horror, like any genre, relied on a number of tropes which became too familiar after the market was flooded, like those damn women in clown white scuttling around on all fours. The other unfortunate side-effect was Hollywood’s fascination with the genre, combined with the recent ubiquity of pointless remakes; instead of, I don’t know, distributing the fucking movie they’re so enamored with, American producers, grabbing their cash cow by the teats and twisting them into grimy black stalactites, simply regurgitate the films in question, replacing most of the original characters with silly honkies. Cultural trappings tend to get lost after needless Anglicization, but many of the original films weren’t even that great to begin with…
J-Horror is a bit of a misnomer here (as it often is) since the 2004 film Shutter was of Thai origin, but the present remake, the creation of American and Japanese producers, transplants the action to Tokyo. Why? Either because of actual Japanese director Masayuki Ochiai’s (Infection) preference, or because the filmmakers think the setting will inject some needed East Asian-ness into their product: “Hell, those places are all the same, yeah? Thailand, Japan, Shangri-La, whatever.” Sheesh.
Whatever the case, Joshua Jackson and hot Aussie (Haussie?) Rachael Taylor play newlyweds who run afoul of a cranky yūrei, as if there’s any other kind. Mighty Duck is a photographer who lands a high profile gig in Tokyo, where he and Haussie move soon after their wedding. And not long after, the poor sots are bedeviled by that ubiquitous woman-in-a-white-gown. After apparently running over the woman on a country road, she starts appearing in photographs and popping up in mirrors/reflections. These encounters always have the potential to creep, but we’ve seen this imagery ad nauseum, and every appearance in the movie is so predictable and rote the viewer has ample time to fortify him or herself from the scare. Haussie assumes the woman is out for revenge for her untoward encounter with their car; Mighty Duck scoffs and dismisses her. He’s a bit too dismissive, if you get my
red herring meaning.
Perhaps my having seen the preceding Thai film hamstrung most of the narrative interest in Shutter; I knew what the mystery was, but waiting for it was still an enervating chore. Not only does Ochiai repeat the mistakes of his forebear, he slows the action to a crawl. Predictable or no, a thriller needs a quick clip, if not an engaging one; Shutter moonwalks where it should gambol. The Thai film was just as bland and unoriginal, exploiting the folklore of “spirit photography” for empty thrills, but even it had a reasonable tempo. The new Shutter is a silly snoozer, blandly acted and only functionally directed. If both the original J-Horror films and their American remakes can only rely on a bedrock of regional imagery to propel their stories, the genre has totally ceased being horror’s most inventive arm. I hope someone else picks up the slack soon.
Phillip Stephens is the lead critic and book editor for Pajiba. He lives in Fayetteville, AR, and will edit your comment to make you look like a flatulent tardscoop if you sass him or correct his grammar. Not really, but also really.
Shutter / Phillip Stephens
Film | March 21, 2008 | Comments ()