Shutter (2004) Movie Review

Ah, the dead. They’re just so vindictive and oh so predictable, aren’t they? Of course it’s probably not the fault of the angry spirits that they seem to always show up in exactly the same manner (long dark, disheveled hair, anyone?) or the fact that they all seem to be young woman in their late teens to 20s. After all, once you die and has to fight through hell to get back to the world of the living, trips to the local stylist is not exactly in the cards. That said, there is nothing remotely original about the new Thai horror film “Shutter”, the umpteenth variation on the Long Dark Hair Ghost Story movie, which comes to us complete with generic, “You better find out what’s got her so pissed before she gets you!” storyline.

“Shutter” opens in breezy fashion, and by the fifth minute young lovers Tun (Ananda Everingham) and Jane (Natthaweeranuch Thongmee (Can I buy a consonant, Pat?)) are in their car heading back from dinner with some friends, only to (literally) run into something on the dark road. The lovers spot the body of a woman laying in the road behind them, but before Jane, the driver, can get out of the car to check, Tun has convinced her to drive off. Days later, it’s revealed that the only accident on that particular road on that particular night was that someone had run their car into a billboard — Jane and Tun’s car. But what of the dead — or hurt — young woman?

The most unintentionally humorous thing about “Shutter” is how easily everyone grasps the concept that there’s a very angry female ghost stalking them via Tun’s photographs. A photographer by trade, Tun always carries his trusty camera with him, snapping pictures whenever he gets the chance, and it’s through this vessel that the ghost seems to be making her presence most known. In the aftermath of the accident that may or may not have been real, Tun starts seeing odd over exposures in his photos. Without missing a beat, Jane immediately surmises that a spirit is haunting them, using the photos as a means to pick her victims.

With Jane’s shockingly accurate (but inexplicably insightful) hypothesis in hand, the duo runs to a tabloid reporter for answers. Required by Movie Law to provide exposition, the reporter informs us that spirits have always appeared in photographs throughout history. He’s so helpful, in fact, that he even keeps a photo album of these photos. Real photos, apparently, because at the end of the movie the producers hedge their bets and “thanks” the respective owners, whose photographs they had used, according to the text, without permission.

Long story short, the ghost turns out to be Natre (Acita Sikamana), Tun’s ex-lover, who had gone missing while in college with Tun. The rest of the film involves Jane and Tun doing that predictable thing all haunted characters do in these Long Dark Hair Ghost Story movies, namely tracing the ghost’s past. They end up at her family home, of course, where they inevitably meets (can you guess?) the woman’s mother, who fills in the gaps.

It’s really not “Shutter’s” fault that its plotting is strictly by the numbers. With so many similar Asian horror films coming out in recent years, and all, it seems, raking in big bucks from naïve cinemagoers, what is the impetus to change? Taking the current sad, sad state of the international horror industry into consideration, what co-writers/directors Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom have offered the world is no better or worst than your average “Ring” copy.

Although highly derivative from the word go, “Shutter” is nevertheless a rather entertaining experience, not to mention technically competent. The use of sound, while a tad irritating in that they cheat (you can startle anyone, during any movie, by suddenly turning up the volume 500% when they least expect it), is nevertheless efficiently done enough to be effective. And the ghost, while looking very generic as can be, offers the audience one minor detour from conventions — she likes to stalk her victims while upside down. Other than that, she’s no different from the 500 other Asian ghosts with long black hair.

Unfortunately there are also some rookie mistakes in “Shutter”. The narrative, in particular, is so predictable and by the numbers that you can’t help but wish the three credited writers could have injected just a little bit more originality into the film. The script also stumbles when it comes to delivering the goods. There’s only really two deaths in the entire film, which while not bad in and of itself (horror movies like these seldom require a large bodycount to work), there are three deaths that take place not only offscreen, but completely beyond the scope of the narrative. As such, we don’t even know the ghost has killed someone until a character mentions it offhandedly to our leads, stunning them and, perhaps more importantly, us. Apparently the directors missed film class on the day the professor explained, “Show, don’t tell.”

A plus for the film is the character of Tun. So often these Asian Ghost stories leave it to the young pretty girls to be haunted at every turn. As played by Everingham, there’s a very convincing ambiguity to Tun that is strangely engaging. As the de facto hero, you expect him to be sympathetic; then again, you have to remind yourself that he convinced his girlfriend to leave the scene of a hit and run and then pretended like nothing happened afterwards. As the other lead, Jane mostly drifts in and out of the film, appearing whenever the script needs someone to prod the narrative onto the next plot point. Which is probably for the best, as Thongmee is either shockingly untalented as an actress or so talented that she is utterly convincing as a character with no personality, not to mention a singular facial expression that is a cross between perpetually scared and perpetually confused. I’m going with the latter.

“Shutter” is not the best or the worst Asian horror film involving an angry female ghost with long dark hair out there right now. Its Thai origins don’t impact the story very much, and its stab at relevancy (the long exposition regarding the history of supposed spirits in photographs) is little more than a mild distraction from the film’s mostly derivative nature. Even so, there are some nice scares, and the film actually features a hero that isn’t squeaky clean. Which, if nothing else, could very well be a first for the genre.

Banjong Pisanthanakun, Parkpoom Wongpoom (director) / Banjong Pisanthanakun, Parkpoom Wongpoom, Sopon Sukdapisit (screenplay)
CAST: Ananda Everingham …. Tun
Acita Sikamana …. Natre
Natthaweeranuch Thongmee …. Jane

Buy Shutter on DVD