Have you ever seen a horror film in which a character, against her better judgment, approaches a motionless body sitting in a chair facing the wall, then slowly turns it toward the camera? How about a horror film in which this happens more than once? How about three times?
At some point in “Shutter” you will probably lose count, along with your patience, but the film will keep right on going. It’ll put faces in bathroom mirrors, wake characters from awful dreams, make still photographs suddenly move and then -- once again -- turn that motionless body your way. If you’ve never seen one single horror film in your life, “Shutter,” a remake of a 2004 Thai film, might strike you as the “Citizen Kane” of its genre.
The story begins with young American newlyweds, Ben (Joshua Jackson of “Dawson’s Creek”) and Jane (Rachael Taylor, seen briefly in last year’s “Transformers”). Each is attractive and both are so in love that they often begin having sex in front of us. Post-wedding, they jet off to Tokyo where Ben, a commercial photographer who’s worked there before, has a new job, thanks to some old connections.
Things go badly almost as soon as the plane touches down. While driving (on a lonely road late at night, of course) toward their cabin near Mount Fuji, their vehicle plows into a young girl who appears out of nowhere and just as mysteriously vanishes.
Soon after, as a shaken Jane wanders through Tokyo with her camera, the girl’s pale face begins to pop up in her snapshots. “Spirit photos,” a Japanese friend says wisely. Ben isn’t convinced, but soon the girl shows up in his photos too. Worse, she starts haunting dimly lighted hallways and darkrooms too. This is one kid who does not stay in the picture.
Masayuki Ochiai, making his U.S. directing debut, mostly hews to convention, drenching his rooms in light the color of dead skin and using computers to distort faces into death masks. Occasionally he gets snazzy, as when Ben is terrorized by his own strobing floodlights. And in at least one scene -- featuring a busty young model, a lecherous talent agent (John Hensley) and a disapproving camera -- Ochiai goes enjoyably bonkers.
At times, the movie’s banality works in its favor: Just when you’ve grown accustomed to the seeming pointlessness of the spirit photo shtick, a connection is revealed that actually seems rather nifty. And the frights are so predictable that you may lapse into a false sense of security despite yourself. These are the moments when “Shutter” seems smarter than you thought.
Then that body in the chair turns around again.
“Shutter.” MPAA rating: PG-13 for gruesome imagery, sexual themes. Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes. In general release.