I think I still remain about where I was when I first watched Shutter in 2008. I didn’t dislike it but because it is so derivative (and films have been inspired by it, versions made in different countries applying similar themes regarding spirit photography and restless spirits), I didn’t fall head-over-heels for it like a lot of horror fans seemed to have. It deals with similar parts associated with the Onyro horror film. You have this restless spirit that remains active because she doesn’t want to let go of someone she loves.
You have this photographer with a notorious secret involving a past incident that included his gang of hard-drinking, hard-partying pals. His gang went to the same Bangkok university, and this photographer, Tun (Ananda Everingham), is shown celebrating one of their own’s engagement, a girl he loves attending (she’s a current college student named Jane (Natthaweeranuch Thongmee), also studying to be a photographer).
One night while driving home, Jane supposedly hits a woman who was standing in the middle of the road, and Tun shows a cowardly side to him that will be established as an unsavory trait later confirmed when his secret is revealed to the woman he loves…Tun coerces Jane to flee the scene without checking on the victim, a hit and run. When a woman is never reported to have been found, Jane and Tun become curious. This very early scene will encourage the unraveling of events that soon lead Tun and Jane to a former student named Natre (Achita Sikamana).
Natre haunts both of them—in particular, Tun—and until they determine why she continues to hang around and disrupt their lives, this activity will further burden them, putting a strain on their relationship. There’s a lot Jane doesn’t know—a certain detail she deserves to know as it pertains to her believing in Tun and wanting to trust him—that will be shed to light.
Tun isn’t exactly a sympathetic hero. The early scene where he tells Jane to leave the scene of a hit and run doesn’t especially endear him to us in a positive light. By film’s end, Tun will probably be despised by most. This is a bit of fresh air, though. Typically, the restless spirit of a victim who departed tragically will visit upon a lead character unrelated to their death, “encouraging” (enlisting by means of haunting) the heroine/hero to pursue the reason behind why their lives were cut short. Tun has a whole history kept from Jane, continuing until she finds (thanks to phantom photography that provides her a path to its discovery) a group of negatives hidden away from plain sight that calls him out. He does provide Jane some backstory involving his link to Natre, but there’s some unfinished history he purposely conceals from her. Natre’s spirit wasn’t about to allow that secret to remain free from reaching Jane. Natre wants Tun for herself and with Jane in the way, this can’t be possible. With a sad and tragic backstory including a mistreated and lonely outcast who obsessively latches onto the only person attentive to her betrayed by the very one she cherishes, a gang attack (including rape) that goes unpunished until suicides result in the re-emergence of a past returning to haunt them, and the careful establishment of why Tun's neck problem has become a problem he can't seem to get rid of, this film does follow the formula of allowing the audience to see just why this whole ordeal in the present is happening.
There are some fun tricks that have worked in these movies for years. The red room I have seen used before, but I always dig how they use this little room where photos come to life to build a terror scenario. The ghost emerges, all that bright red, and most of the time it happens when characters are studying photographs, looking for evidence of the supernatural. There’s a trick, subtle but so easy a set up, where Tun is previewing wedding photographs, when a woman we believe to be Jane is standing by him, only for her to call him on the phone seconds later…who was just in the red room with him?
The spirit photography always gives me a special thrill (particularly when done just right) when we see hints and slight images of ghosts occupying space just away from those the pictures are taken for. The thought that “they are among us” and can’t leave us, a form of their presence appearing on film allows filmmakers to really creep us out a bit. Again, this technique, whether on Polaroid or not, had been a tried and true method to spook us before. Distorted images of people in Ringu, where photographs are used to imply something sinister, along with nightmares and mirrors/windows concludes that Shutter takes what has been successful and utilizes them, resulting in another hit movie…Thai/Singapore audiences ate it up, and soon The Hollywood Remake Machine got on board, producing a chore/bore that failed to capitalize on anything that was impressive in the 2004 Shutter version.
Sins of the past theme had been used since the beginning of the movies, so this returning once again in an Onryo film should surprise. Attempts to “put the spirit to rest” and how this fails despite the best efforts (ceremony and cremation) again are par for the course. That Tun doesn’t get away with ultimately his sins is a nice touch, and the reason for his neck pain gives us quite a lasting image to take away from this film. I think because it is well made, despite covering familiar ground, Shutter benefits from a fanbase that enjoys all the aspects that have appealed to horror fans since Ringu and Ju-on burst on the scene to catapult Asian horror into the global mainstream. Is Shutter at the top of the heap…I don’t think so, but its success is undeniable.