31 Days of Nightmares 2017 — Shutter and Shutter
Wait, am I reviewing the same movie twice? Well, yeah. The last two nights I watched Shutter, a 2004 Thai movie, and Shutter, the 2008 American remake.
The original is a solid if unexceptional horror movie. It fits right in with the J-horror trend that was happening at the time (despite not being Japanese, more on that later), featuring a creepy, waif-like female ghost. It was really successful in Thailand and ended up getting remade several times in different countries. I hope creators Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom made a ton of money from the various versions!
The thing that really stands out in J-horror, to me, is less a visual style than a sense of nihilism and doom. Yes, gray-faced phantoms with burning eyes and creepy kinesthetics are vital, but more importantly, once one of these ghosts is haunting you, there’s no escape. In a Hollywood movie, you’d figure out that the ghost was seeking vengeance, resolve the problem, and the ghost would fade away. In Japanese movies there are false endings where the characters think they’ve solved the problem but the ghost keeps on coming, and eventually everyone is murdered by the ghost, which presumably will set its sights on new victims.
2004 Shutter [source: Shudder] fits the mold, although it’s gradually revealed throughout the movie that the protagonist really deserves his awful fate. There are some scary scenes and a few solid jump scares, plus a wonderful climax in which the main character is climbing down a ladder in the rain with the ghost above him, climbing down after him in the wrongest way possible. The whole thing is basically a big setup for the chilling visual image and realization that the ghost has literally been riding around on the dude’s back for the entire movie, and that he’s doomed to live out his days in a mental asylum with the ghost still attached to him.
The story draws on elements of Thai folklore, resembling traditional ghosts like the Phi Am and Phi Song Nang, which helps give it a very different feel from the average American ghost story.
The American version [source: Amazon streaming rental] stars Joshua Jackson (part of his tour of mid-budget horror movies post-Dawson’s Creek) and Rachael Taylor (pre-Hellcat). It’s…not good. But before we get into what’s not good about it, let’s talk about the translation. To begin with, it’s nearly a shot-for-shot remake. I was really surprised how closely they stuck to the original script, including the deeply distasteful reason the ghost has come back to haunt the main character — he was present when she was gangraped by his friends, not intervening and even taking photographs of the incident.
That’s really the most transgressive thing this movie does (both versions) — it sets up a somewhat likable main character and at the end reveals that he’s an abhorrent scumbag. Jackson’s version is much less likable — he’s a real dick to his wife, where Tun in the original is merely a bit distant with his girlfriend. In both versions the friends are a bunch of scummy bros. That translates from Thai to American quite easily!
There’s a weird decision made in the American version. The American main characters are a married couple who immediately move to Japan, where the entire movie takes place. Now presumably the remake was greenlit to latch onto the American J-horror fad, so I guess that’s why they moved to Japan? But it could have been set in the U.S. without affecting the story at all. I get that dislocating the characters creates a sense of isolation and “alienness,” but the original didn’t need that, and let’s remember that it was a Thai movie set in Thailand. Were the producers really like, “Ah whatever all Asian countries are the same, put it in Japan”? (This is kind of an unfair question since some of the producers are Thai, but you see my point).
Despite being generally faithful to the original, the American version suffers in almost every aspect. Viewers are led through the plot by the nose, with loads of clunky expository dialog. The scares are telegraphed badly. Worst of all, no makeup effects are used on the ghost. It’s just a slightly pale girl who appears to annoy Jackson periodically. The gross bloody face and eyes in the original were far more unsettling. The American version also does away with the ladder scene, resulting in a stupid and anti-climactic ending.
I’d definitely recommend the original for some scary entertainment. The American version fails to capture any of what made it good.
By the way, since we’re talking about Asian movies that received western remakes, seek out the original Pulse. It’s on Shudder and will crush your soul with terror and despair. Again, avoid the American remake.