Yes folks, it's Asian horror time again. It's hard to believe that a sub-genre which so revitalised and influenced the Western ghost story/supernatural thriller form when its finer examples began to show up on DVD and at film festivals back in the late-nineties, is now apt to produce only impatient groans and weary sighs whenever the term "Asian Horror" is mentioned — but that is exactly what's happened. Although initially unusual, eerie and strange to Western eyes, the Asian horror film soon revealed itself to be utterly entrenched in a firm set of visual tropes and themes with next to no variation discernible from one film to the next. Only a few directors now seem capable of any originality (Miiki among them) but their work inevitably tends to be somewhat hit-and-miss and uncommercial as they struggle to reinvent a moribund genre for the Naughties. The irony is that if "Shutter" had been made ten years ago, I'd doubtless be writing about it in the same terms as the Pang Brothers' "The Eye" or maybe even Takashi Miike's "Audition". But, unfortunately for its fiendishly young Taiwanese directorial team, Banjong and Parkpoom, it has only now shown up on DVD, and so despite its being as about as skillfully crafted and as finely honed for scaring you plain out of your seat as one would have any right to expect — coming as it does from film makers so young — it just doesn't seem quite as clever or quite as unusual or "out there" as it really should, or would have done several years ago!
You will know exactly what to expect by now: images of long haired, pail-skinned, waifish ghost women emerging from unlikely places (here, it's a photographer's developing sink); strange distortions appearing on photographs of those destined to meet an unnatural end; and a mystery surrounding the death of a young girl which the protagonists must unravel in order to remove her curse. It's essentially the same scenario we've seen umpteen times before. The fact that the shock moments, when they come, are genuinely scary and unexpected (which is more than you can say for the vast majority of thrillers - I've just sat through the turgid mess of a remake of "Black Christmas". Jesus Christ!!), and that there are several visual ideas and images which are equally as vivid and unsettling as the famous (and now iconic) image of Sedako emerging from the TV in the original "Ringu", does not seem to change the feeling of over-familiarity which inhabits every frame of this movie as assuredly as one of the unmovable ghostly viruses that forever plague the characters in all of these films.
For what it's worth the film dwells on peer pressure, macho bonding, loneliness and isolation, and weaves them into the familiar plot outline with some degree of skillfulness. Photographer Tun (Ananda Everingham) and his girlfriend Jane (Natthanweeranuch Thongmee) accidentally run over and kill a young woman while driving home one night after an evening out with some of Tun's college friends. Tun urges Jane to drive on, leaving the crumpled body in the middle of the deserted road. Soon though, Tun's drinking buddies start committing suicide one by one. A strange, ghostly figure crops up in Tun's most recent photographs of each of them -- it is the woman Jane and Tun left to die in the road! The two begin investigating the phenomena of spirit photography and they try to find out who exactly the dead girl really is. But, soon, Jane begins to realise that there is more going on than meets the eye, and that Tun is hiding a huge secret that changes her perception of everything that has happened!
The outline doesn't sound like much, but to their credit, the directors have done a good job of subverting the expected trajectory of the plot by introducing some clever twists that alter our sympathies completely by the end of the film. The final image is indeed haunting. The shock scares are competently handled throughout and the inclusion of a lot of supposedly real spirit photographs (the DVD includes a gallery of these which is incredibly spooky, even if one doubts the veracity of their origins) adds a frission of authenticity to the increasingly clammy atmosphere of mounting dread. The DVD is a two-disc special edition which includes a video commentary with the cast and various featurettes and promotional materials. It's not the most essential set of extras in the world, and the actual film transfer is a tad disappointing (it looks like a NTSC-PAL conversion job) but if you still have any time left at all for the Asian ghost thriller then this is an excellent example of such and is therefore worth a look.