At this point, Americanized J-horror has become the Michael Myers of horror subgenres: Every time it's stabbed in the eye, hurled out a second-story window, and seemingly left for dead, it just keeps coming back for more. It's a relentless, inhuman, unstoppable force, not unlike the army of pallid-faced, hitch-stepped ghouls that keep crossing over from the spirit world, demanding that their voices be heard. The below-average Shutter coughs up another vengeful ghost in the form of a spurned Japanese waif who appears in photographs and sets about getting her message across as many ghosts do—in the most indirect, passive-aggressive, logic-defying way imaginable. After 85 minutes of celestial charades, the movie is over and everyone can go home.
Unlike other English-language J-horror adaptations, Shutter actually takes place largely in Japan, though it's based on a J-horror-style Thai film rather than a Japanese one. Either way, its few effective scenes play up the alienation of being a stranger in a strange land. When photographer Joshua Jackson zips his new wife Rachael Taylor to Tokyo for a business opportunity, the two stop first for a honeymoon in the countryside. While driving at night in the middle of nowhere, Taylor accidentally strikes a mysterious woman who wanders out into the road, then disappears without a trace. The couple assumes the victim must be okay, but her ghostly visage starts turning up in photographs, on reflective surfaces, and wherever else she pleases. Left alone while Jackson is out shooting all day, Taylor investigates the source of the apparition to figure out why it's picking on them.
Director Masayuki Ochiai, working from Luke Dawson's script, cares so little about the non-horror scenes that he might as well use title cards to get the requisite information across. Jackson and Taylor consummate their marriage by whispering sweet nothings like "I don't know why I married a photographer," and "Better hurry, big boy, we have to catch a plane to Japan!" The scares take a bit more effort, but even then, Ochiai relies more on fake shocks that wear off quickly than on the lasting chills that come with careful atmosphere-building. The photography hook gives Shutter the potential to be a genuinely creepy ghosts-in-the-machine story like the original Pulse, or better still, a horror twist on Blowup. But one effective scene lit solely by a camera flash isn't enough to rescue this from the J-horror slushpile.