One-third lysergic plutonian tour, one-third attempted digital-art mindfuck, and one-third pointlessly phantasmagoric twist thriller, Minos Papas’s Shutterbug stylistically suggests the planate obtuseness of an aesthetically retarded man’s David Lynch and the emotive stiffness of the real M. Night Shyamalan. The movie follows a celebrated but archetypically cocky photographer named Alex (Nando Del Castillo), who attempts to win arguments with his girlfriend by flinging cheesy black and whites of local architecture and insisting for no apparent reason that his prints are at the core of his tortured identity. After embarking on a hellishly ambulatory night trek through Manhattan’s underbelly, Alex encounters tetchy skaters, homeless sages, condescending cabbies, and other misappropriated Joseph Campbell tropes that evince a tenuous grasp of the mythic New York let alone the genuine one. Papas additionally peppers his pomo-urban microcosm with ghostly Gaussian smears that patrol the borders of Alex’s consciousness and compel him to search for meaning outside the 8x10 glossy—a subplot included mostly to prop the interpretative door just ajar enough for dream logic to squeeze through as an eye roll-inducing explanation for the benignly wacky antics Papas thinks up.
Papas is a gifted photographer, or has at least hired one: The precision of his color-coded yuppy palace, a loft apartment with piercing white window glare and charred yellow tank tops, is scathingly alluring, and a cunning environment against which the flat, crisp resolution of the movie’s digital video can expose the haughtiness of the film’s characters. But Papas also shares his protagonist’s lack of depth and mind-numbingly flashy self-consciousness, and as a result his film is a lengthy exercise in professionally-executed vapidity. The stale, didactic dialog is rendered all the more contrived by rigid edits that punctuate nearly every sentence in some scenes; basic human gestures, such as hands gripping telephoto lens or clasping quivering wrists, are captured with nervously punched-in, obscene close-ups that fracture whatever natural rhythm may have been achieved; and Alex’s various guides through the NYC underworld become unnecessarily antagonistic without warning or provocation (one particularly confusing exchange with a taxi driver ends brutally after Alex simply requests to be taken to an address with no questions asked).
The script’s vacuity crescendos in the oneiric third act, where Alex’s ongoing hallucinations of curly-haired females intensify with both rear-projected and chroma-keyed Photoshop landscapes and unconvincingly mobilized toy station wagons, all of which provides the film with a unique look that’s strikingly both digital and handmade but also ultimately hollow beneath the surface. The putatively sophisticated mythos of the narrative and various plot devices aside (Alex’s journey is clearly intended to be optimistically Orphic, with his camera hanging portentously around his neck like an albatross pendant), Shutterbug is little more than a childishly incoherent, urban fairy tale.