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Review © Mandi Apple, 2006.

Directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom, 2004, 93 mins, starring Ananda Everingham, Natthaweeranuch Thongmee, Achita Sikamana and Unnop Chanpaibool.

After having had my email inbox assaulted for months on end about a year ago to review Shutter by a billion emails all screaming "DIS IS THA SCARIEST MOVIE EVAR!!!!!!!!", I got so fed up with being told firstly that I should review it RIGHT THIS INSTANT, and that I was just plain wrong for finding it scarcely frightening at all, that I lost my temper and resolved that I would never, ever, ever review it.

Having had some time to reconsider my decision, here's my entirely fair, well-considered, open-minded, even-handed review of it. Surprised? ;-)

In a genre which consistently, even recently, puts out masterpiece titles such as Marebito and Acacia alongside hideous deformed turkeys like Ju-Rei: The Uncanny and Ghost System: The Unbearable, Shutter's worst failing is that it truly puts the 'meh' into mediocre. The movie is based on a fine original premise - the real-life phenomenon of ghost photography, something which is deeply rooted in contemporary Asian pop culture to the extent of there being popular shows on TV which deal in nothing but pictures purportedly of spooks, and ones which are regionally meaningful at that, such as Malaysia's pontianaks which frequently pop up and say hi to photographers (often in 3D-vision ;-)), or the weird phenomenon of 'missing limb' photos found frequently on Japanese paranormal TV programmes, such as this example on the Web.

However, as with so many of the lesser titles of Asian horror, the interesting basis for the story ends up being completely wasted. So many screenwriters lose their way in a mish-mash of gaping plotholes, unnecessary fake endings, even more unnecessary fake twists that just don't need to be there, and derivative elements borrowed from more popular (and moneyspinning) titles: and sadly, Shutter is no exception. Not only does it feature the by-now almost mandatory long-haired female ghost (which I'm sure makes even the most patient of horror aficionados groan out loud and bang their head repeatedly against the wall), like Phone, it helps itself to large chunks of Dark Water along the way. It even borrows heavily from Western classics such as Psycho and The Omen, as well as regurgitating some ancient, creaky horror cliches which could easily have featured in definitively corny TV shows such as Armchair Thriller or indeed Tales of the (not especially) Unexpected. For the record, it even nicks a trick or two from the nigh-on prehistoric black and white chiller The Haunting, which is a forty-three-year-old movie!

It also doesn't help that the storyline wanders so far away from its original jumping-off point that it never really regains any sense of cohesion or logic and ends up comprehensively confusing itself with its swiss-cheese plotholes - let alone what it does to its audience. It could have become a fascinating look into the emotional significance of the more morbid urban legends in popular culture, but instead it turns into a somewhat average supernatural potboiler with very little atmosphere.

Synopsis

"Why would the dead return to the living... without a message to convey?"

Tun (Ananda Everingham) and Jane (Natthaweeranuch Thongmee), a young couple who are both photography students, are returning home from a night's drinking with friends. However, on the drive back, Jane accidentally runs down a young girl, and in good old-fashioned horror movie style, instead of electing to do the decent thing and take her to hospital, Tun persuades Jane to drive off.

Some time after the accident, Tun is employed to take some photos of a university graduation. As he lines up the group for a shot, though, he notices something very strange through the lens of his camera: a pale figure standing between the students, which just isn't there when he looks away from his viewfinder. Coincidence? Well, what do you think? ;-)

Anyway, it would appear that Jane is still very traumatised by the events of that night, and won't go back to university or even talk about it. Even though it was partly Tun's fault she drove off as he was pushing her to do so, she feels the most responsible as it was, after all, her who was driving the car.

When Tun goes to pick up his prints of the graduation ceremony, he gets even more of a shock: almost every print is obscured by weird white streaks of light. Blaming it on the developer does no good though, as it's pointed out to him that in fact, the streaks are featured within the negative - so it's definitely not a printing fault. When Jane and Tun are examining the ruined pictures that evening, they both spot a woman's face on the print - right where Tun had originally spotted the pale figure when he was taking the photo. And later at college, while they are looking at an display of another student's work featuring a fatal car accident, they notice that one of the pictures has an identical white streak across it - where someone had died.

This pushes Jane to try to find out what happened to the girl she hit. However, on investigation, it turns out that no hospital has any record of a road fatality in that area, and no body was found, much to the couple's astonishment. That still doesn't change the fact that there are ghostly faces, shapes and light anomalies appearing in Tun's photos, and even his developer tells him he ought to think about doing a bit of extra praying since clearly a vengeful spirit is haunting him. But if there really was nobody injured in that car accident, who is it and why are they stalking Tun and Jane... and their circle of friends?

After all the hype about how this movie was going to single-handedly kick the Thai horror market into orbit, for my money Shutter just does not deserve the reputation it seems to have garnered. Compare this film to any of the big names of the genre and you may well find it unrewarding, severely lacking in scares and originality. In point of fact, if the movie must be compared to anything within the genre, it bears a striking resemblance to the HK movie Inner Senses, Korean works Phone and Gawi, and also the HK/Thai Pang Brothers' joint production Ab-Normal Beauty - none of which are going to set the horror world alight any time soon. Shutter desperately wants to be up there with The Eye and other classy horror titles of that calibre, but just can't make the grade. It delivers more of a cross between the UK TV shows Most Haunted and Hammer House of Horror than anything else, and that isn't exactly what you'd call a compliment.

Unfortunately, unlike Ab-Normal Beauty which at least featured some fairly impressive imagery, Shutter looks and sounds as pedestrian as it feels. The reasonable budget has lent the visuals a very pleasant gloss, but while the piece looks pretty enough, there just aren't enough stand-out images. The soundtrack is frankly more than a bit weak. As for the acting, though, the performances are actually one of the better points of the piece - all solid and well-delivered. Ananda Everingham as Tun is particularly understated and credible, and it doesn't hurt that he's very easy on the eye, to boot ;-)

All that said, then - Shutter is not a bad movie. It's just not a particularly good one either, and certainly not worthy of all the frenzied attention it's received. It doesn't do anything new, but does a reasonable job with the material it rehashes. Shutter falls squarely into the 'bog-standard' category - a pleasant enough way to spend an afternoon. But then, so is stamp collecting, power walking or flossing your teeth, all of which might be considered slightly more constructive uses of one's time. A terrible shame, since the original trailers which caught my interest in the first place are actually a lot more actively scary than the movie itself. There is, thankfully, one saving grace - a long, eerie sequence near the middle of the film which utilises that trailer material in a satisfying and creepy way - but that's pretty much it in the way of chills, and in a horror movie, one representing sequence and a handful of somewhat gaudy jumps just aren't enough to carry the whole piece. Rentworthy, perhaps, but save your money for something with a bit more bite.

Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment: 6/10
Chills: 2/10, and that only for the so-say "true" ghost photos
Sex: Ananda/10 ;-)
Gore: 2/10
Violence: 5/10
Scary Weird-faced Women: 1, and, to be blunt, she's scary enough without the spook make-up on
Scary Toilet Ghosts: how come whenever I run out of loo paper unexpectedly, there's never a toilet ghost around to help me out? ;-)
Gross-Out Moments: teeth/10
Litres of Tomato Ketchup: a couple of squeezy bottles squirted about quite liberally

Films in a similar style: Inner Senses, Ju-on: The Grudge, Chakushin ari, The Eye, Phone, Gawi, bits of Dark Water, bits of most other genre films, Derek Acorah's Antiques Ghost Show

*** Generic but watchable ***

Shutter Wallpaper
please note: the actual paper does not have the Snowblood Apple logo on it.

You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]
Wallpaper credit: Alex Apple, 2006

Snowblood Apple Filmographies

Banjong Pisanthanakun
Parkpoom Wongpoom
Ananda Everingham
Natthaweeranuch Thongmee

Links

The official site is now long gone, and it's rather meagre pickings on the web. However, you can find a trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SyzarrKCtE0 and there's a three minute clip at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQqNM5BFsxs of a key scene (WARNING! BIG SPOILERS!)
There is however an official Japanese site still up at http://www.tsutaya.co.jp/cinema_sp/shinreisyashin/index.html
http://www.upcominghorrormovies.com/reviews/asian/shutter.php - review from UHM; "solid" is their verdict
http://slasherpool.starbase.se/htm/reviews/shutter.htm - Slasherpool give it a once-over
http://www.horrorchannel.com/index.php?name=Reviews&req=showcontent&id=433 - Positive review at the Horror Channel
http://www.lovehkfilm.com/panasia/shutter.htm - LoveHKFilm give the movie a positive, if qualified, review
http://www.idolworld.com/actor/ananda/ - small Ananda Everingham fansite

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