With its gritty atmosphere and long-haired female ghosts, Shutter (2004) may appear as yet another Japanese horror riding on the coattails of the decade-old success of Ringu and Ju-on, but this horror movie is not an imitator, nor is it even Japanese. Shutter is the debut film of Thai directors Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom. This horror movie stems from an unoriginal and predictable plot, but smart directing means it imparts some genuinely scary moments.
After a late-night drinking party, Tun (Ananda Everingham), a professional photographer, and his girlfriend Jane (Natthaweeranuch Thongmee) accidentally run over a woman walking across the road. The panicked couple speeds off into the night, leaving the supposed corpse behind. Tun soon discovers mysterious white shadows appearing in his photographs. Believing the shadows to be the ghost of the women they ran over, Jane embarks on an investigation to identify the woman. As Tun and Jane edge closer to the truth behind the haunting, the ghost of the woman becomes more violent and begins murdering their friends.
A Promising Asian Horror Movie
In this day and age, Asian horror movies are a dime a dozen. The industry has locked in on a standard formula of black-haired, pale-skinned, white-dressed female ghosts surrounded by hazy shadows and loud creaking noises. Shutter has all these clichés and yet it comes off as a more than decent horror movie.
The idea of ghost photographs is not an original concept, but the film carries it out nicely, especially since it allows for some truly creepy scenes in Tun’s red-tinged darkroom. The atmosphere throughout the whole movie is grim and gritty. The scenery is dimly lit and shadows are abundant. Eerie screeches and screams and the typical tension-building background music are all present and done competently. But what really makes Shutter noteworthy is its last portion. The ending leaves that essential haunting feeling that really sticks with the viewer. A clever and daring twist at the end helps Shutter standout compared to other Asian horror movies.
Perhaps the most impressive element of Shutter is its directors. This may be their debut feature film, but Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom produce a well-tuned and polished movie that showcases their talents and potential. They also prove that Thai cinema deserves notice, especially in a genre that is dominated by Japanese and Korean filmmakers. Shutter was nominated for the Golden Kinnaree Award for Best Film in the 2005 Bangkok International Film Festival and the duo’s subsequent horror film Alone (2007) earned multiple awards at several international venues. All in all, the future seems bright for the burgeoning genre of Thai horror and the pair of directors at its helm.
A Disappointing American Remake
It seems to be the case that an American remake of an Asian horror film is a blessing and a curse. An American remake builds up the reputation of the original film and compels a wider audience to see it; however, past remakes have proven that the Americanized version is surely a failure compared to the original. In the tradition of The Ring, One Missed Call, and The Eye, the 2008 American remake of Shutter is another less than stellar piece of cinema.
The remake of Shutter is strange piece of work. It is an American film based on a Thai horror movie, directed by Masayuki Ochiai (a Japanese director), set in Tokyo. The storyline is almost exactly the same as the original. American photographer Ben Shaw (Joshua Jackson) moves to Tokyo with his new bride Jane (Rachael Taylor). Like the Thai film, the couple runs over a woman on a dark road and ghostly shadows appear on Ben’s photographs. The problem with the remake is not the story, but how it is told.
Lighting is a noticeable difference between the two films. The remake is too bright and the scenery is too sleek. As a horror movie, it fails to create any real sense of atmosphere that is needed to set up the audience for a good scare. Another issue is the characters. While the plot is more or less the same, the character of Ben comes off as a remorseless jerk, compared to Tun, who is definitely more sympathetic and emotional. This is an essential point since part of the thrill of Shutter is based on who the audience sympathizes with: the haunted or the hauntee. The Thai version leaves space for the audience to feel for both parties while the American remake makes it hard to root for any character. A nice touch with the American version is the character of Jane, who has more presence and seems stronger than her Thai counterpart, but like Ben, her hardened character nullifies some of the more sentimental scenes.
Both versions of the film are currently available on North American DVD and are also available through Netflix. The original Thai version of the film was released by Tartan Video in 2007. The American remake was released in 2008 by 20th Century Fox. You can also get it for free at 123Movies.