October Horrorshow: Shutter (2004)

Shutter was a new experience for me. As far as I can remember, I’ve never seen a movie from Thailand before. If there were a line in Vegas on whether or not the first Thai movie I chose to watch would be horror or shitty, what would that line be? Or would that be a sucker bet? It is October, after all. The month of blood and death. Of course I’m watching horror. So the only question is, is it shitty horror?

From 2004, Shutter, written and directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom, follows young couple Tun and Jane (Ananda Everingham and Natthraweeranuch Thongmee). After a night out drinking with friends, the two of them are heading home, Jane behind the wheel. Tun is flirting with her, and a moment’s distraction leads to Jane running someone down in the street. It’s the middle of the night, so Tun urges Jane to flee the scene, which she does. Not long after, Tun, a photographer, begins to notice wispy shapes appearing in his photographs. After some more ghostly shenanigans, it appears that Tun and Jane are being haunted by the ghost of whoever Jane ran down in the street. This sounds pretty clichéd, I know. But don’t worry. The woman in the street is a red herring. She’s already a ghost in that scene. There’s a whole other reason for the ghost to show up. I have no problem spoiling this for the viewer. I look on it more as providing a service, letting the viewer know that if they just hang in there through the clichés and J-horror conventions, they will be rewarded with a good ghost flick.

If a viewer is familiar with J-horror, then they will be familiar with the ghost. It’s a female, with whitened skin, and long black hair that covers her face. She likes to appear out of nowhere with a wide blank stare on her face, and also likes to crawl up, onto, or out of things. I can’t be sure, I may have only been projecting, but I think I made have heard some croaking sounds coming from the ghost. I can’t swear on it, though.

So, there’s nothing new about the ghost. What does make this a good ghost film? Well, although the film does follow convention in the presentation of its specter, it does it well. There’s nothing wrong with following convention if it’s done well enough to belay accusations of laziness…at least half the time, anyway.

Somewhere around the start of the final act, though, the film enters some new territory that got me reengaged with the story. By this time in the film, the ghost has acquired some bodies, the two protagonists know what they are up against (at least, they think they do), and they are actively working towards a resolution. But some misdirection before this final act means there’s still some more story to tell. It’s when this happens that an otherwise above-average film becomes good.

Interpreting the performances of the two leads is somewhat tough for me. I watched the film with subtitles, so at least I didn’t have to suffer through bad dubbing. But English is such a different language than Thai that many of their inflections escape me. I couldn’t spot a flat delivery in this film if I was slapped in the face with it. What I can write is that when the cast was supposed to act scared, they looked scared. Same for nervous, uneasy, whatever. Anyway, the tense emotions, the ones a viewer would expect to see in a horror flick, those I picked up on just fine.

The dual directors did decent work shooting the film and telling the story. The film owes a deep debt of gratitude to Japanese horror, but it inhabits its own world just fine.

One last thing. There are a couple scenes that feature real photos that people have said contain ghosts. I don’t know how copyright law works in Thailand, but the producers of this film took care of any usage problems by adding a disclaimer to the front of the end credits. I’m paraphrasing, but it went something like, “the producers wish to thank in advance anyone whose pictures happen to be featured in this film.” In advance, at the end of the movie. “Hey, thanks for letting us steal your stuff.” Hilarious.