At this point, I don't even remember for certain whether Shutter was advertised as "from the people who brought you The Ring," or if that was just the selling point for every other piece of J-horror in the last five years.
It's getting a little out of hand. Constantly harping on your one success just draws more attention to the fact everything since then has been crummy and weak. The Chicago Cubs aren't advertised as "the team that brought you the 1908 World Series." The Wachowskis may have made The Matrix, and truly they are as gods for it, but trust me, when I see their name on Speed Racer, my mental note is a giant frowny-face.
Shutter doesn't break the J-horror slump. Just married, Joshua Jackson and Rachael Taylor move to Japan for Jackson's photography job. On their honeymoon, Taylor hits a young woman with her car -- only no one can find the body or any evidence she hit anything at all.
Soon, strange blurs and images start showing up in Jackson's photos. Out on the streets of Tokyo, Taylor thinks she's seeing the girl she killed. Equal amounts of coincidence and research lead Taylor to an explanation: these weird snapshots are "spirit pictures" caused when the dead, driven by strong emotion, come back to haunt the living.
Lord knows how a common camera's sensitive enough to pick up these images. As for what the ghost is trying to accomplish by standing around menacing people all day, that's also something of a mystery. This mystery is eventually unraveled, which puts Shutter ahead of some recent J-horror entries (I'm looking at you, One Missed Call), but it sure takes its sweet time getting there.
Through skillful framing, director Masayuki Ochiai ghosties and other bad business earn a few creepy moments, but they're diluted by a vast wasteland of cheap scares. You know, a tight shot of Taylor so we can't see what's behind her, eerie music swells, and then the camera pulls back to reveal the person right behind her is the person she's married to!! while the audience releases their 64 oz. Cokes all over the theater floor.
Except, well, real horror has to be earned. Shock-cuts don't do the trick. Even if you're a phantasm from beyond the grave, threats stop being threatening after the fourth or fifth time you don't follow through on them. Seeing dead people in windows and photos is only scary for so long before the dread wears off and you start to wonder if the deceased really have nothing better to do than screw up our vacation photos for all eternity. If I were a ghost, I'd be all skydiving from the moon or haunting Elizabeth Hurley's shower, not baffling people with my spooky but harmless shenanigans.
And if I were a living screenwriter instead of a wandering spirit, I would do my damnedest not to telegraph the big twist a half hour in advance. Also, if I were somebody who did something really bad that would get me in all kinds of trouble if anyone ever found out about it, I would not keep the evidence in the closet of my home. (Personally, I prefer to burn it. Bonfires scare the neighbors and get them to keep their damn noisy kids inside.)
But you know what, as tedious and foolish as the path to Shutter's ending was, I kinda liked the ending itself. It's not often a movie so focused on wacky ghost powers pulls back and gets all metaphorical on you; usually, they prefer to just wallow around in their private pool that's filled with make-no-sense instead of water. Yay Shutter! Way to go out on an up note rather than a suck note. Now if only all the tension and scares hadn't drained out along the way.