Shutter (US - DVD R1)
Gabe Powers has decided to carry a Polaroid camera everywhere he goes...
Thun (played by Thai Orlando Bloom doppelganger, Ananda Everingham) and his girlfriend Jane (Natthaweeranuch Thongmee, nothing like a couple Thai names to fill out a review’s letter count), both aspiring young photographers discover mysterious shadows in their photographs the day after fleeing the scene of a violent car accident. As they investigate the phenomenon, they find other photographs contain similar supernatural images, then Thun's best friends begin falling out of windows.
Shutter isn't so much as movie as a machine. It's a scare machine, carefully tweaked and calibrated to insure the nice folks that experience it empty their bowels into their knickers. Plot, acting, motivation, a scare machine cares not for these things, a scare machine cares only about that precise moment when the audio and visual assault crescendos, and a yelp of terror is wrenched from the viewer.
I personally haven't found much use for scare machines the last few years, I even wrote an article about it as my first for this site. When you spend three years of college living alone and bleeding every nearby video store of its horror content, you tend to memorise the beats normally utilised to obtain a scare. Normally, if I know I'm watching a horror film I'm just not frightened by various shouts of 'boo' (though a non-horror film is a different story, I accidentally punched myself in the face the first time I saw Magnolia). If a film scares me, it's usually due to disturbing content, emotional violence, and bad things happening to loveable characters.
Shutter, a film I heard nothing but great stuff about, managed to exceed my jaded scare quotient. This is especially surprising not only because I'm just hard to make jump, but because I've been drowning in Asian ghost stories the last two years. As I've said a million times before, these films seem to always follow the basic Ringu template (a film I didn't love all that much anyway), and depend too much on the viewer’s personal belief in the supernatural. I don't believe in ghosts or the supernatural, and the idea rarely disturbs me. I can recognise a well-made ghost story, but usually one does not scare me.
Shutter doesn't quite emote the overwhelming sense of dread found in a film like Audition, it doesn't feature the perfectly executed Baroque visuals of A Tale of Two Sisters, nor does it have the intriguing sense of the truly bizarre found in Uzumaki. What it does have is more jump-scare set-ups per minute than almost any other film I can think of, and this is what makes it memorable and entertaining. It's like the Airplane! of Asian ghost stories. That last scare didn't get ya? Here's another one! That one missed too huh? How 'bout this?! Eventually even the strongest of wills will succumb.
Visually, the film emotes a little too much Ringu and Ju-On for my taste, and had it not been for the film's utter tenacity I'd have dismissed it outright. The plot is very predictable, with the exception of the last minute twist, though I'm not even sure I'd call it a twist as much as a reveal (and frankly a rather unimportant one to the story as a whole). One has to take into account the rules of this genre, and I'm hoping I'll see a movie that plays with them someday. We all know the Scream series poked fun at the 'rules' of the slasher genre (don't have sex, don't do drugs, don't wander off alone, don't say "I'll be right back", etc), and books have been written about the proper way to survive a zombie film as well (aim for the head, burn all the bodies, don't let yourself get cornered, etc.). Here's a few things to remember when trying to survive a ghost story of the Asian persuasion.
1: Always retrace your past, the past of those around you, the history of the house you just moved into, etc. It's very likely that you or someone close to you has done something awful that would invoke a spirit's wrath.
2: Quickly find the angry spirit's body. The faster you dispose of a corpse in the proper manner (and this will vary depending on the customs and religions of the area the corpse is found in), the faster the ghost will leave you alone.
3: Rule number two is always bullshit. The proper disposal of the angry spirit's body will just lull you into a false sense of security, opening up a third act can of worms that will most likely kill you. You probably overlooked something. Go back to rule one.
Shutter follows these rules, more or less, and those looking for some kind of revelation will not find one. Those in search of a late night on the couch with their susceptible girlfriend and a scare machine guaranteed to produce at least a dozen shoulder gropes will be in creepy ghost girl heaven.
On the whole this is a very soft transfer. It verges on outright blurry at times. The black levels are very deep, and contrast seems accurate, but the image is so soft that detail suffers greatly. I'm impressed with the colour pallet, and its reproduction, with the exception of scenes taking place in Thun's darkroom. Red is the bane of a lot of DVDs, and I know for a fact that my television has some issues with the colour, so slack should be cut, but the blocky, dancing edges during these scenes are pretty atrocious. It verges on looking like a pixellated Windows Media file in these scenes. The print is also very dirty for such a new feature. There are quite a few artefacts disbursed throughout the transfer. I have to say that, once again, I am disappointed in the folks at Tartan.
For the most part, this disc has two solid tracks, and because it is the norm for Tartan, these tracks are Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. For a change, I think I actually preferred the Dolby Digital track. The DTS track is louder and has a heavier bass channel, but the Dolby track is more subtle, richer, and more spatially wide. Both tracks do their part for the scare machine. What's meant to creep the audience out is effectively creepy, and the jumps are loud and piercing.
The problem with both tracks is just strange enough that I initially thought it was part of the film. I noticed three instances of front channel sounds being preceded in the rear right channel a solid few seconds. Because I noticed this during scare set-ups, I really wasn't sure if it was a scare tactic, but thanks to reader 'Disciple', and writer Cas Harlow, who reviewed the Hong Kong disc for our site, I'm 90% sure this is an error. If anyone reading this review can tell me otherwise, please assist, as this is the only version of the film I've seen, and don't really plan on buying another.
The extra features come down to a series of very brief featurettes and trailers. The behind the scenes section is a bit of fly-on-the-wall footage, and the interviews only run between one and two minutes. All these extras are obviously meant to sell the film, and offer very little in the way of real information about the production. The folks involved in the production are all charming enough, and very excited about their product.
Blocky bright reds and possible audio errors aside, Shutter begs a viewing by Asian horror enthusiasts. It lacks story and heart, but makes up for it in sheer vigour. Turn out the lights and go along for the ride, just don't try to overanalyse anything or you might find yourself unable to suspend your disbelief. Again, if anyone here knows anything about the audio issues on this disc to the contrary of what I have written here, please let me know. Thanks.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 27th March 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Thai, Dolby Digital 2.0 Thai
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Behind the Scenes, Cast and Director Interviews, Trialers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Banjong Pisanthanakun, Parkpoom Wongpoom
Cast: Ananda Everingham, Natthaweeranuch Thongmee, Achita Sikamana, Unnop Chanpaibool, Chachchaya Chalemphol
Length: 97 minutes
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