‘Shutter’ (2004/8)

Shutter ‘(2008) is touted as a product of ‘the Executive Producers of ‘The Ring’ and ‘The Grudge’, but is the American audience’s memory so brief as to forget that only one of these American remakes was any good?

‘Shutter’ plays like ‘Ring 2′ ought to have. Back in 2005, I had hoped that the production team at DreamWorks would have done the smart thing and either followed the Japanese sequel or done the metatextual thing and paid homage to their source material by sending Rachel Keller East for a close-encounter with kwaidon — Japanese ghost stories. Unfortunately that didn’t happen.

Shutter ’08 is good at explaining the mechanics of Asian horror, but little better than other American remakes. It may even be too late to resurrect American interest in the import subgenre.

The 2004 Thai original and American remake are almost identical, save for the fact that in the American version protagonists Ben and Jane are visiting Japan from the United States, whereas the original’s Tun and Jane are Bangkok locals. Ben-Tun is, in both cases, a photographer with a past. Thai-Jane is a student, while American-Jane is a schoolteacher. American-Jane and Ben are newlyweds, while Jane and Tun are presumably just dating.

It’s fairly clear that the original Thai Shutter of ’04 was inspired by the Japanese Ringu franchise — the Hideo Nakata film that gained popularity in Japan, then spun off into 2 sequels and a South Korean television series . Aside from the stringy-haired ghost, there’s a moment when an iconic, Sadako-like figure starts to rise from a darkroom sink.

Interestingly, it’s the original version of this viral ghost-story that raises the ante for Western audiences by tipping its hat to Chris Marker’s ‘ La Jettée ‘. Though it’s just a little didactic, there’s a good moment in the original film where student-Jane’s instructor explains that “photography does not reproduce reality. It depends on how the image is framed. What is revealed, [and] what is concealed. Your perspective is critical.”

The original film features more inventive camera work and better production design despite the re$ource$ the American version had going for it. Because their Shutter entered the field at the end of a wave of Asian tech-virus horror movies, Directors Pisanthanakun and Wongpoom really are able to improve upon everybody else’s stories of haunted cell phones and watering holes: Spirit Photography has been a cult fascination throughout the world since the 19th c. What better ay to populate an Asian horror film than with a technology or phenomenon that Westerners might already be familiar with?

Moreover, Pisanthanakun and Wongpoom borrow numerous Western ideas ideas about photography and it’s aesthetics as plot-points — specifically, the heretofore mentioned matters of framing and perspective. But this effort at staging and blocking doesn’t make it into Luke Dawson’s screenplay adaptation . Curiously, there’s a Larry Craig moment in the original that might have entertained American audiences but for some reason it didn’t make the American cut of the film.

One thing I have noticed about these movies, especially in the Thai original is the attention to shot composition. Here, more than most American movies, the original emphasizes shot composition because you’re constantly surveying the background for ghostly apparitions. Directors Pisanthanakun and Wongpoom go one further than any of the directors that preceded them by paying homage to both Nakata and Stanley Kubrick in closing pursuit scene absent from Dawson’s adaptation.

Another nice invention by Pisanthanakun and Wongpoom is a sequence where Jane assembles her snapshots only to discover that they’re haunted by a zoetroped ghost in an image sequence. This is repeated in the American remake, but of course the pictures here are in color.

For all of the ‘Ringu’, ‘Grudge’, ‘Pulse’ and ‘One Missed Call’ rip-offs that have been projected onto American screens these past few years, the original ‘Shutter’ has the best ending, something that surprising and thoughtful, but aped in the American version. See it, but see the original.

Original Thai version Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Japanese-directed U.S. remake Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

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