Shutter (2004)

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/10/05 01:20:37

"An unapologetic 'jump movie'."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2005 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: The hottest thing in American horror these days is remakes of Japanese movies, so of course if you want to be ahead-of-the-curve cool, it's time to leave Japan behind. The new hot action is in South Korea and, increasingly, Thailand. It's the latter that brings us the unpretentious, thoroughly enjoyable "Shutter".

Shutter has a very simple goal: It wants popcorn flying all over the place because it has made you jump. It is not subtle in how it goes about getting this reaction, often punctuating its jump moments with stings on a digital soundtrack as loud as any American movie, and occasionally engaging in tricks as obvious as bright flashes of light. It knows how obvious its tricks are, and occasionally subverts them with a joke, or by happily showing the employees of a tabloid magazine matter-of-factly photoshopping "spirit photographs" together from various elements. And yet, despite all the tricks of the trade that any seasoned horror fan can spot, the movie works. If this (or an already-optioned remake) plays in American theaters, popcorn will be flying all over the place.

On their way home from a friend's wedding, Tun (Ananda Everingham) and Jane (Natthaweeranuch Thongmee) hit a girl standing in the middle of the street with Jane driving. Jane wants to help, but Tun sees a truck bearing down, and holds her back, figuring that the truck's driver can take the blame. But Jane has nightmares, and the two start to grow apart. Tun is shocked into taking Jane's concerns seriously when the pictures he (a professional photographer) snaps for a friend's college graduation have strange smears on them, and when he examines one closely, it certainly looks like a face. Soon, the nightmares start for him, only he recognizes the girl as being Natre (Achita Sikamana), whom he dated while he and his friends were in college. Oh, and speaking of his friends, that one who just married, Tonn (Unnop Chanpaibool)? Losing his grip on reality.

So, what makes Shutter stand out? Well, to start with, it incorporates "real" spirit photographs into its plot, especially during a scene in the center where Tun and Jane consult an expert (albeit one who admits he has faked hundreds despite believing some are the genuine article). It's also got a charismatic lead in Everingham. He's got a tough job; he's got to have the audience's sympathy even when the plot is revealed to be driven in part by some pretty crappy things he's done. There are a couple of scenes that need to be played for both laughs and eeriness, and he nails them. One doesn't necessarily go to horror movies for the acting, but this movie falls apart without Everingham's performance.

Natthaweeranuch Thongmee delivers as Jane, too. She has to be just as good as Everingham, especially since in the early going it appears the movie is going to be about her - she's the one who was driving, after all, and if the theme of this movie is some sort of karmic payback, it would initially seem to be pointed at her. Instead, she winds up being the conscience of the movie, the one agitating to get things set right and pushing Tun when he doesn't necessarily see the way. Achita Sikamana, meanwhile, gets to put on some thoroughly nasty make-up in the present-day scenes while appearing shy and kind of weird (but also attractive) in the flashbacks. I wouldn't be terribly surprised if the present-day scenes were played by a different actress; the transformation is effective.

Co-directors and co-writers Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom are familiar with all the tricks of the trade, and use them without shame. Is there a scene in the photography studio where the lights go out and the occasional flash of light shows that Tun isn't alone? Of course. Do they milk as much dread as they can out of a red-lit darkroom? You betcha. Certain doom escaped by the revelation that the previous scene was a dream? Check. Someone thought to be asleep revealed to be dead and decomposing. Oh, yeah. A series of photographs flipped to create crude animation? Yup. False ending? Come on, you know there's got to be at least one. Still, things become clichés because they have at least worked in the past, and Pisanthanakun and Wongpoom (along with third writer Sopon Sukdapisit) have built up a situation where these things fit the story well. They also know how to do a fake-out without getting overly ironic or having it be something completely random. They are guilty of hiding a few bits of information until the big reveal at the ending, and perhaps extending the story a bit past when the audience is ready for it to end, but these are forgivable sins.

"Shutter" is an effective jumper, although hard-core horror afficianados may sniff at it for being rather remake-ready, or not as over-the-top shocking as some Asian horror. And they'd have a legitimate point or two; "Shutter" isn't innovative or as conceptually disturbing as some of its cousins: It aims to be a solid, commercial genre movie, and that's what it achieves.

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