Thursday, March 19, 2009

Shutter (Thailand, 2004)

(Spoilers ahead. And since the original Thai version of the film is such a good movie, maybe you should just skip the review for now and watch the film first.)

Now that the Hollywood PG-13 version of Shutter (2008/trailer) has hit the screen to almost unanimous derision it is time to go back and take a look at the film it is based on, a truly scary and well-made Thai horror film from 2004 entitled – what else but? – Shutter. Dunno just how bad (or, perhaps, good) the US version is, as I have yet to see it, but I do know that the original Thai flick, once I got over the early hit-and-run scene that initially cost all my sympathy for the two main characters (but later proves key to understanding them and their fates), scared the heebeegeebees out of me more than once and, in the end, impressed me by both its effectiveness and unpredictability – not to mention that the film also has one of the most ironically horrifying final shots ever caught on film.
The young photographer Tun (Ananda Everingham) and Jane (Natthaweeranuch Thongmee) are on their way home from a wedding party when Jane, the driver, accidently runs over a woman who appears from nowhere. In shock, Tun convinces Jane to drive on, and they leave the lifeless body in the road. As the guilt slowly gnaws at Jane's conscience, a ghostly figure begins to appear in Tun's photographs, in their dreams and in their daily life. Returning to the scene of the accident, they find out that no dead body was reported or found. The occurrences get increasingly scary and physically real as they delve deeper, and soon Tun's four friends of the wedding are all dead by suicide – the last one taking his life right in front of Tun's eyes. Jane finds out that the ghost is that of a young woman named Natre (Achita Sikamana), an odd and lonely student that Tun was seeing while he was studying. Could there be something more behind Natre's haunting than simple unrequited love? And why did she drive his friends to suicide?
First time directors (and scriptwriters) Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom supposedly were inspired to their story after seeing some photographs of a 1973 riot in Bangkok during which 77 protestors were killed. In a variety of the photographs, unexplainable ghostly images were to be seen, a phenomenon commonly known as "spirit photography". In Shutter, the concept of “spirit photography” is taken a step further, and the ghostly images that initially appear in the photographs taken by the film’s protagonists quickly take a far more physical form, terrifying the young couple in the typically Asian form of a long-haired white ghost which, as expected, glides along upside down at one point and, less expectedly, in other scenes spits out blood and teeth over a textbook or slithers along the side window of a moving car. But whereas the ghosts found in Ringu (1998/trailer), Ju-on: The Grudge (2003) and untold other Asian films could actually whisk you dead away or physically harm you, the ghost of Shutter is far more of the spectral type: She is less a hands-on representation of horror that kills than a nightmarishly corporal form of karma. And, indeed, as the last shot of the film reveals: Living with guilt on your shoulders can be worse than death.
If there is a flaw in the original Shutter, it is one that is probably based more on cultural differences that a (PC) Westerner cannot understand than on narrative failure: Perhaps, in Thailand, it is indeed worse to be caught on film being raped than it is to be caught on film as being the rapist (as in inferred by the rapists' request to be photographed in the act). Shutter is an excellent horror film that is as equally scary as it is – in the end – saddening. Hollywood may have fucked up with the remake, but the original version pays out in spades.

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