Sunday, July 15, 2007

[DVD] Shutter (2004)

I'm Scary!

When this movie was released in Singapore in late 2004, friends raved continuously on how it managed to spook their wits out. I recall the marketing campaign too, with their in cinema posters having put up photographs circled with strange willowy figures, the subjects being oblivious to the special presence of the spectral "friends' from the nether world.

And yes it indeed took me so long to finally get to watch this, because like I admit I'm still chicken (you laugh) in watching horror movies that send genuine chills. Actually if you noticed I've ventured into watching and review movies from the horror genre as well, and most of them released these days are laughable stuff. But for those whom friends (who are regular horror shock jocks) have cautioned against, I decided to tread safely and watch this when the sun is still up. And I thought that if I didn't, then I could have well get my fair share of nightmares starting from tonight.

You see, like The Ring, this movie had taken an occasional phenomenon, in this case, those that photographers face in the form of expired film, double exposures and the likes, and gave them some ghostly reason to exist. While today's cameras have mostly gone digital, I have gone through the era of film, and have some photographs developed on film as well, so I do have some of those pictures with some of those effects as shown in the movie. It's nothing spooky, but you can't help it if your imagination chooses to run wild. I had to review and watch this because writer-directors Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom cut their cinematic debut with this movie, and I will have the opportunity to watch their next movie Alone, and sit through a panel discussion with them. Doing my homework is a must.

I thought Shutter managed to carve some new horror rules for the Asian horror genre, such as having the story center around a male protagonist (which current horror movies seem to give allowance to as well). And unlike many run of the mill horror movies which do things for the sake of doing them, and rely heavily technically in delivering shock tactics, Shutter had an incredibly believable, and strong storyline at its core. Story matters, and the filmmakers never seem to forget that. In providing a reason for the spook to haunt our protagonists, they have carefully developed characters, scenes, and provided enough plot development in the unravelling of its mystery, giving it a refreshing narrative presentation which still has not aged. Its revelatory scenes is one of the best ever, coupled with the best possible ending which chills, thrills and provide the spills, and it's no wonder why Hollywood came knocking in its season of movie-adaptation hunting.

Shutter tells the story of Tun (heartthrob Ananda Everingham), a freelance photographer, and his girlfriend Jane (Natthaweeranuch Thongmee), who after a night out celebrating a friend's wedding, get involved in a hit-and-run episode. Things start to go awry for our couple, staring with the photographs that Tun takes for a living exhibiting strange wispy white shadows, some of which Jane's imagination start to think it was the girl whom they have knocked down. Talk about the consciousness feeling guilty. But investigations into the identity of the woman prove to be more than meets the eye, and cuts closer to home that they both can ever imagine, involving a girl from the past, Natre (Achita Sikarmana)

Never relying on cheap tricks, which I thought was a major plus, the production values are top notch, doesn't look cheap for one bit, and that itself lent some gravitas to the credibility of the movie and story - you just don't need quick cuts or jumpy Boo moments to scare - just a carefully developed scene which sends chilling reactions. For that matter, there was a scene that didn't even need to show the actor's face; the strength of the story and for that scene alone, was worth it.

At its core, there's a pair of sad love stories cementing the narrative, which if you remove the supernatural elements, might seem to reek of cliche romantic drama series. But in this story of doctored pictures, double exposures, and the lack of focus, it allows reason enough for some reinforcement of the popular thought that our spectral friends usually return to settle their unfinished business, to exact their vengeance, a view that I share because I don't believe all ghosts are as good natured as Casper.

All in, this is a horror movie that I'd recommend because it doesn't try too hard, and has a decent story at its core. If you're someone who believes that the camera can capture souls (even from living beings), then Shutter would be right up your alley. Certainly a more satisfying Asian horror movie to come out in recent years, and definitely trumps over many half-baked ideas for the genre that get churned out from Korean to Japan to Thailand.

The Code 3 DVD by Alliance Entertainment comes in Dolby Stereo 2.0 in its original Thai soundtrack. Audio quality is excellent, while not crystal sounding, enables the relevant audio effects to add an additional dimension to give you the spooks. Visually, the 4x3 Letterbox presentation could have been anamorphic widescreen, and the transfer is not pristine as some pops and cackles are visible in some scenes (no, we're not talking about the shots of photographs here). At times, the visuals look a bit grainy too.

Scene selection is available over 21 chapters, and optional subtitles are in Chinese. English subtitles are burnt in, so no issues with that, especially when it's devoid of spelling errors and grammatical mistakes. The special features, while the list looks impressive, actually has a combined runtime of less than 13 minutes. While split up into its respective menu options, they actually play one after another continuously.

The special features include the theatrical trailer (2:29), and a featurette titled "Scoop: In the Picture", which seeks to answer the question if those pictures with the spooks are real or otherwise, with interviews involving people in academia and the photo film industry. It did seem an interesting extra to include, but a pity it's only runs for 1:35. There's also an ambiguously titled "Feature" extra, which runs for 0:39, with its content also as ambiguous as its title, offering nothing more.

The cast and crew interviews (2:20) involved only the director-writers Banjong Pisathanakun and Parkpoorn Wongpoom, who shared the inspiration for the movie, and lead actors Ananda Everingham and Natthaweeranuch Thongmee. I thought it would be a good inclusion for Achita Sikamana, but probably that'll spoil the mystique.

Writer-director Parkpoom seemed the more talkative of the two, if the Behind the Scenes feature is to be accurate, when they share their experiences and recount incidents that happen on the set. The more action packed sequences were selected for this feature, with the Car Crash (0:55), Suicide (1:35), which I was amazed at how it was done in one continuous shot, but of course, revealed here, Ladder (1:50) which recounted a near miss accident, and Real Picture From Location (1:11) which was a real mimicking reel life where the filmmakers actually had a photograph taken on the set reveal some extra uninvited guest!

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