The Geisha of Gore Reviews: SHUTTER (2004)
A Review by Colleen Wanglund, the Geisha of Gore
Written and directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom, SHUTTER is a 2004 horror film from Thailand that was remade as an American film with the same title in 2008 (which they are uncredited for).
The film opens with Tun (Ananda Everingham), a photographer and his girlfriend, Jane (Natthaweeranuch Thongmee), celebrating the wedding of Tun’s friend from college, and they are among the last few left at the celebration. On the ride home, with Jane driving, the couple hit a girl who seemingly appears out of nowhere. In a panic, Tun tells Jane to drive away, and they do. Jane is feeling guilt and anguish over their decision to leave the girl lying in the road and we discover Tun has had pain in his neck since the accident. She goes to see Tun but he doesn’t do much to console her. Tun is developing photos he had taken of his sister’s college graduation, but discovers they were all ruined by a weird shadow that Tun cannot explain. The shadow is a face in some of the photos and Jane believes they are being haunted by the girl they hit and left to die. The couple drives to the spot of the accident, but the only evidence that anything happened is a damaged billboard. Tun’s friend calls local police stations and hospitals but there is no record of an accident ever happening.
While Tun finally goes to see a doctor about the pain in his neck, Jane finds a magazine about ghost photography. Convinced of the haunting, Jane and Tun go see the magazine’s publisher who tells them that most of the photos are manipulated fakes, but that some photos are real. He tells the couple that he believes there are ghosts, because the dead feel there is unfinished business or a message to be passed on. He also says that sometimes the dead cannot leave their loved ones.
Next we see that Tun’s friend has committed suicide by jumping off of the building he lives in. Tun and Jane are then told of two other college friends who have died in the same manner. In the car, Jane confronts Tun with photos from Tun’s days in school, including one of a young woman. Tun tells Jane that the girl is Natre (AchitaSikamana), his girlfriend in school but he kept it a secret because all of his friends thought she was weird. He tells Jane that Natre was really in love with him and she took their breakup very hard. Tun told his friends, who assured him they would take care of her. Jane believes it is Natre who is haunting them. They drive out to Natre’s home and are shocked to be told by Natre’s mother that the girl is home but not feeling well. While the mother is busy Tun and Jane search the house and find Natre’s corpse in an upstairs bedroom. They convince Natre’s mother to finally hold a funeral and have her cremated. At the funeral, Tun and Jane are told that Natre had returned from school depressed but wouldn’t say why. Natre tried to kill herself by taking pills but she was found and brought to the hospital in time to save her life. She then jumped off the hospital’s roof and died. Jane believes that once Natre is cremated the haunting will end—that she is restless because her body was not given a proper burial.
Jane later finds time-lapse photographs that Tun had taken of the apartment and sees the ghost. Putting the photos in order and using them as a flip-book, Jane sees the ghost near the shelves where Tun keeps all of his work. She finds a stack of negatives hidden behind the shelves and develops them in Tun’s darkroom. What the photos show is something horrific that occurred while Tun and his friends were in school. It seems that Natre’s haunting is far more than just a restless spirit needing a proper funeral. Natre is seeking revenge.
Thailand has a strict code for movies, so you won’t see much gore and blood—some, but not a lot. As a result, horror films have to rely on a good story and the right atmosphere. SHUTTER has both. The story is a bit more complex than it first seems and there are a few strange twists that make the movie that much more enjoyable. While you may see a typical ghost story, there is also betrayal and the fact that people are not always what they initially seem. The story is a solid one and the acting and directing are great. Thongmee does a fantastic job as Jane, conveying her fears and her cultural beliefs in the case of the dead. We believe that Jane believes they are being haunted for a reason, but because she does not know the whole story surrounding Natre’s death and Tun’s involvement with the girl, she is also somewhat naïve. However, Jane is the film’s real protagonist, a strong and determined female doing what she can to protect the person she loves, while at the same time showing true concern and empathy for Natre.
Everingham is very good at portraying Tun as a good guy, and then showing the eventual cracks in the surface. He is a likeable guy who may or may not have made the wrong decisions where his friends and girlfriend Natre were concerned. Even his decision to drive away from the accident is understandable because he was scared. Wrong, but still understandable. Was that fear for himself or for Jane, who was driving? Does he deserve what is happening to him? You, the viewer must decide. Both Tun and Jane are sympathetic and real. Natre is also a sympathetic character for me. It seems she has good reason to haunt Tun and his friends. The friends turn out to be selfish, brutal and callous; and Tun, at the very least, stood by and did nothing.
Unlike some ghost stories out of Southeast Asia, SHUTTER is fairly linear and coherent in its telling. Yes there are flashbacks, but they work to advance the plot and to bring the true cruelty of the film to light. SHUTTER is also classically Asian, in that the ghost has lost her identity and has only her revenge left to her. It is grim with an almost vague ending that is typical of Asian ghost stories, regardless of their country of origin. Natre is a frightening antagonist and I doubt even Jane would have survived if she were among the ghost’s targets. Natre was sadistically and savagely victimized in life, but she became powerful in death and able to punish the men responsible in the only way she could. This, again, is a major cultural aspect of Asian horror films and is clearly demonstrated by Jane’s belief that the haunting would end when Natre received proper funerary rites. What I did find odd is that Natre’s ghost was dressed in her old school uniform, as opposed to the usual white gown. Even if she died jumping from the hospital’s roof, she would probably be in a hospital gown. Then when we see her later in the film, the uniform is gone, replaced by something I couldn’t quite identify.
While not an exceptionally great film in the genre, SHUTTER is still above-average and I did enjoy it quite a bit. It has an angry ghost, a strong female lead, an insensitive guy, and a decidedly unhappy and not-too-predictable ending. It’s dark and chilling and worth your time. And it’s only 90 minutes long.
Interestingly, while remade as an American film in 2008, it has also been remade at least a half-dozen times in other countries in Southeast Asia, including two different times in India. While I have not seen the American remake (I’m generally not a fan of remakes) I can tell you that it was directed by Masayuki Ochiai whose Japanese horror titles include PARASITE EVE (1997), HYPNOSIS (1999), and INFECTION (2004). Yes, an American remake of a Thai film by a Japanese director.
© Copyright 2013 by Colleen Wanglund