Running Time: 93'
Directors: Banjong Pisanthanakun, Parkpoom Wongpoom
GHOUL RATING: *** (3)
Story: A young couple –Tun, a photographer, and his girlfriend Jane- are driving home from a party late at night. They have a hit-and-run accident: after they mow down a young woman, Tun urges Jane to drive away from the scene. Soon, however, strange light patterns and faces start appearing on his photos, scary dreams haunt him, ghostly presences are felt around him and Jane, and they start investigating the ‘ghost photos’ phenomena and history of the girl who seems to be behind the haunting. Of course they are not chosen randomly: it turns out that the ghost is attached in a very peculiar way to one of them…
Review: Just as you might suspect from the above synopsis, SHUTTER is yet another addition to the still-growing body of RINGU-induced works dealing with (or should I say: exploiting?) the motif of a long-black-haired female ghost prone on one kind of vengeance or another – usually by popping out of various technological devices such as TVs, video tapes, cell phones or, as in this case – cameras and photographs. OK, it was scary the first time around. But after a dozen films with black hairs emerging from the water surface or female ghosts crawling closer and closer towards a petrified protagonist, do you still shiver - or do you yawn?
SHUTTER is not exactly yawn-inducing thanks to a solid pace and occasionally energetic direction. There are inspired shots, like a single take of a man’s suicide over a high-rise’s balcony (simply but effectively staged, and explained in the additional features on the disc), or a stroboscopic scene in which Tun uses the camera’s flash to find his way in a suddenly darkened room. The hit-and-run is also well edited, and has a nice… uh, impact. The film’s culmination involves a solid suspense on the fire escape ladders chase, and the very end has a nice touch of macabre romance which reminded me, in a way, of the end of HAUTE TENSION (a far superior film to SHUTTER by any standard, and strongly recommended!).
The film’s main gimmick is the ‘ghost photos’, a phenomenon that you can read about in any publication devoted to the supernatural. The directors use the allegedly real photos (credited at the end of the film) which show the blurry faces gawking behind their living relatives. The concept is at the same time silly and potentially spooky: the problem is, spooky photos have already been done to death in the past 30 years, ever since THE OMEN; and the original RINGU has reminded us of that as well. Imperfections of the eye and the secrets hidden in the grainy images were suitable bases for films ranging from Antonioni’s artsy BLOW OUT to some great movies by Dario (DEEP RED) Argento and Brian (DRESSED TO KILL) de Palma. The two directors of SHUTTER are not visionaries like those authors, but merely competent purveyors of the tried-and-true tricks: their use of photography is far from revolutionary in either formal (visual) or thematic sense, but it serves the purpose of a decent, unambitious, moderately effective piece of entertainment.
The amount of scare achieved by the film depends strictly on the viewer’s cinematic experience and exposure to similar Asian (and other) flicks from recent years. The ghost photos would seem much scarier if you haven’t seen them in RINGU; the same film has also staged the ultimate ghost-crawl-toward-you, but the one in SHUTTER is passable as well (though not as good as the one in A TALE OF TWO SISTERS); the black haired head emerging from the water would be more effective if you haven’t seen RINGU or DARK WATER; the upside-down ceiling-walking ghost will be even scarier without THE GRUDGE and ONE MISSED CALL, while the ghost hovering next to a running car may be familiar to those who saw JU-ON 2; and of course, the whole ‘they are around us’ gimmick (from the film’s tagline) has already been exploited by THE EYE…
Other than the whole photo angle, SHUTTER is curious for having a protagonist who turns out to be one of the most despicable main characters in any recent film I can remember other than BAD SANTA (although even the latter attains a redemption at the end!). The amount of his sleazy, whiny cowardice and irresponsibility has to be seen to be believed! But don’t worry: he gets his just desserts! Some reviewers have stressed a big twist at the end; I won’t spoil it for you, but I’ll reassure that it’s not of the tired ‘they’ve-been-dead-all-along’ variety. Besides, it’s not such a big twist after all. The overhyped reviews elsewhere on the net may make you expect something more than a tolerable, watchable nothing-special Asian ghost flick with slick visuals that SHUTTER is, so – be warned. Don’t believe the hype until it’s the KFCC hype!
DVD [ NTSC, Region 3 ] : The usual plastic DVD case is enveloped by a carton one (slightly better designed). The sharp images come in anamorphic widescreen enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs, while the audio options include Dolby Digital 2.0, Dolby Digital EX 5.1 and dts ES. Audio is in original Thai, with subtitles in English, Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese. Other than the film itself, on this dual-layered disc you can also find very short and conventional promotional featurettes: a minute or two of director’s and actors’ talk, a couple of minutes of behind the scenes, a ‘ghost photo’ made during the film’s shoot (!), and the trailers.