“Shutter” (2004) – A.J. Hakari

After Ringu’s cursed videotape and One Missed Call delivering death by cell phone, it was only a matter of time before Asian horror cinema turned to cameras as a means for restless ghosts to start sneaking into our world. Shutter, a Thai horror hit, features innocent snapshots serving as a gateway to seeing spirits from beyond the grave. Although that comes as a great shock to the characters in the movie, the effect isn’t quite the same on movie buffs, for if you’ve seen one vengeful female ghost movie, you’ve seen ‘em all.

Driving home after a night of drinking and partying at a friend’s wedding, young photographer Tun (Ananda Everingham) and his girlfriend Jane (Natthaweeranuch Thongmee) accidentally hit a young woman on the road. In a moment of panic, Tun yells at Jane to take off, but as the couple soon discovers, their troubles are far from over. Over the next few days, Tun starts to notice strange white shadows appearing in his pictures, at first blaming it on a faulty developer before seeing that they’re part of the negatives themselves. Not only that, but Tun sees a ghostly face pop up in some of the photos, while Jane has nightmares about a woman chasing her. These two assume something supernatural is afoot. They think the girl they hit has come back for revenge, only to investigate and discover no accident was reported that night. Whatever the situation may be, Tun and Jane must race to get to the bottom of their spiritual stalker before the force slowly driving their friends to suicide targets them next.

I hate to resort to a bad pun, but there’s really no better description for Shutter than saying it’s…well… under-developed. Not only is the film’s disappointment a result of being in the right place at the wrong time (when scores of Asian horror flicks and their American remakes are saturating the market), it’s also a bit screwy in the storytelling department. Don’t get me wrong, Shutter isn’t as hopeless as those Grudge movies, which deliberately shift their respective chronologies for the sake of landing a few cheap, maddening twists. No, Shutter is a letdown of another kind, getting so caught up in adhering to the basic Asian supernatural thriller outline that it pays next to no attention to those elements in the story which could’ve given it an emotional edge over the competition.

Without spoiling anything, I will say that directors/co-writers Parkpoom Wongpoom and Banjong Pisanthanakun manage to plant the seeds for the film’s eventual payoff early on, so they know exactly what kind of effect they want the story to have. The trouble comes from paying too little attention to these buds throughout the course of the film, in favor of sticking close to the same ol’ stalk-and-scare routine, so when the time comes for Shutter to whip out its thematic big guns, the twists and revelations just don’t feel worth it. Still, Shutter is at least well-filmed and features two convincing, sympathetic performances from its leads. But although the flick is often a little on the spooky side, the viewer is never left feeling the characters are being encroached upon by a vengeful, malevolent evil.

Shutter is one of those films I feel bad beating up on, since it’s by no means terrible. With a little more effort put into it, a truly creepy gem of a story might have been crafted, instead of the “meh”-terpiece it turned out to be.

Rating: ★★☆☆

-A.J. Hakari

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