Ben and Jane have barely finished saying "I do" when they have to hop a flight to Japan so Ben can photograph a high-priority fashion shoot. But Jane doesn't really mind, Tokyo is a beautiful and exotic place to start their marriage. She doesn't mind, that is, until they're speeding along a mist-shrouded winter road on the way to their hotel and a glassy-eyed woman steps out in front of the car.
Despite Jane's best efforts, they hit the girl, spin out on the icy roadway and crash into a tree. But when they regain consciousness and the police arrive, a dead body or even a hint of the mysterious woman is nowhere to be found.
Ben shrugs it off and gets to work, but Jane is, um, spooked. Then Ben's photos start showing strange splotches and blurs that shouldn't be there, and Jane is convinced that it's the woman from the highway come to haunt them. With a little investigation, she finds out that what they're seeing is something called spirit photography—where an impassioned spirit's energy is picked up by light-sensitive film.
But it's only when she spots the ghostly apparition hanging out in their pics from before the accident that Jane realizes she may not have been getting the whole story. It turns out the dark-haired waif's name is Megumi. And Ben used to date her. Ben explains that Megumi became overly possessive, so he broke it off and she went away. But obviously ... she's back.
The story takes place in Japan, the home of an animistic belief system called Shinto—a reverence of natural objects imbued with spirits. Shinto allows for a heavily populated spirit world intermingling with the corporeal. This spiritual mindset is the backbone of this and many other Asian horror films.
And while Shutter doesn't spend time exploring religion per se, a character does state that "Japanese love paranormal phenomena." And the movie focuses on a powerful entity that becomes increasingly aggressive and eventually murders and attaches itself to the living.
The flick also dabbles in spirit photography, a capturing of spiritual energy in a picture. (The idea has been around since the early 1800s—usually explained as a double exposure of the film.) Jane and Ben consult a local medium about one of their spirit photos.
Ben and Jane are newlyweds and, as such, are often kissing and cuddling. That affection is taken a step further when the two arrive at their new Tokyo digs. Jane straddles her husband and strips her dress up over her head. We see her brief panties and bare midriff and then a shot of her naked back as the two begin to make love.
A young woman, vying for a modeling job, strips to a skimpy bra and panties while a male model rep photographs her. The camera takes its time ogling her figure. And we are also shown a box full of snapshots of other young women in only bras and panties. Jane wears panties and a T-shirt to bed on a number of occasions, and several of the women in Ben's main office and photo studio wear form-fitting and/or low-cut outfits. Ben's boss, Bruno, is shown dressed only in his boxer shorts. We see the image of a busty anime character on a Japanese gaming room video screen.
[Spoiler Warning] Late in the movie, a creepy Megumi crawls up on top of Ben and strips off her dress in a mirror image of Jane's earlier actions. (Megumi's bare back, however, is covered in rotting flesh and bubbling boils.) She also sticks her scabrous tongue into his mouth.
Another prelude-to-rape scene is noted below in "Violent Content."
When Megumi is hit by Jane and Ben's car, she's crushed as its wheels roll over her. Bruno cuts up photographs with a razor blade pinched between two bloody fingers. And then he jumps over the railing of his multistory apartment building and is shown falling to his death. We don't see the impact, but we do witness a close-up of the bloody results.
Ben has developing chemicals splashed into his eyes. He quickly puts a towel to his face and pulls it back covered in blood. During a later episode with a ghosty Megumi, Ben gags up flies and blood. And Jane's face is pushed by an invisible hand against a cracking window. The window shatters and she is thrown back with a small cut on her face. A man's eye appears to have been punctured.
[Spoiler Warning] In flashback we see a live Megumi being drugged and molested by Ben's sleazy friends while he takes photos. They kiss her face and then drag her off camera to rape her. She is also shown as a mummified, fly-covered corpse. And at the end of the film Ben takes a high-voltage lamp and jams it into his neck. We see the scarred aftereffect.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Large bottles of potassium cyanide are discovered on the floor in Megumi's apartment.
Ben, Jane and friends order sake at a restaurant. Ben and Bruno both drink beer. Ben gives Megumi a drug-laced glass of wine. (We see her groggy.) Jane sets a bottle of wine on her coffee table.
The Ring franchise. The Grudge series. Dark Water. Pulse. One Missed Call. If you've ever read anything about Americanized Asian horror movies—or been goaded by friends or coaxed by slick ads to actually go see them—then you've got a pretty good idea of what to expect from Shutter. It's based on the same now-aging formula of loud-noised jump scenes and mute, black-haired specters that lurch in and out of the shadows.
This latest ferment of the formula tosses in the story device of spirit photography, but it's not as interesting as you might imagine. After you see the first snapshot with its wisp of whitish smoke that could be a face, the intrigue fades quickly. There is one inventive photo-oriented scare scene during which a studio goes black but the photographer's flash keeps popping and reveals a stroboscopic advancing danger. But one creative effect does not a picturesque movie make.
The only other slight variation from the core genre template is that we end up being asked to root for the female ghosty. But to get there we have to watch living humans lie and do base, foul things to each other that even a beastly dude dubbed Beetlejuice wouldn't stoop to. The one true and trustworthy character actually gives up and walks away by the end. And after all the piles of haunted photos are sorted through and the over-amplified bumps in the night finally die down, the ectoparasitic conclusion feels as emotionally empty as it is spiritually contorted.