In Horror Bucket List, I fill in gaps in my horror film knowledge based on recommendations from friends on Twitter. We then have a back and forth discussion about their history with the film.
Next up: 2004’s Shutter with @tyliston.
Plot: A young photographer Tun (Ananda Everingham) and his girlfriend Jane (Natthaweeranuch Thongmee) discover mysterious shadows in their photographs after a tragic accident. They soon learn that you can not escape your past.
Obviously – due to the nature of this project – I had never seen Shutter (or ชัตเตอร์ กดติดวิญญาณ) before this, but I knew about it tangentially because of the terrible sounding 2008 remake starring Joshua Jackson. When did you first see Shutter?
It was 2008, and I was in college on the north side of Chicago. I was going through a difficult time in my life, and the only thing that made me feel better was horror. By the time my second semester rolled around, I had made my way through all of the American classics and was ready to expand my horizons a bit.
Now, this is before streaming, so everything I watched had to be on a physical disc. Kids these days have no idea how good they have it. Us old geezers couldn’t just throw on Shudder and see what they were playing.
There was this awesome video store near Wicker Park that has since closed (I think) and I used to ride the train down there every weekend looking for something new. While digging through their wares, I stumbled across Shutter. I took that baby home and it quickly became one of my all-time favorites.
While we may be blessed with the ability to throw something unexpected on just be logging onto Shudder or Netflix, I really miss walking the aisles of Blockbuster (or Jumbo Video in my case), grabbing titles based on often misleading cover art and wacko sounding titles.
Now Shutter is obviously based around photography and, like a lot of Asian horror, it incorporates ghosts into its mythology. What is it about the film that you like/love?
For me, the best thing about Shutter is the way it incorporates spectral photography into the story. This is a subject that has fascinated me since I was a young lad. The idea that what you do, or what you have done, can leave a blemish or a mark on the world until it is righted is interesting to me now as I have gotten older.
Oh, and it was one of the scariest films I had ever seen.
I’m glad that you mentioned the scares, because I don’t often find ghost films very frightening, but there’s something very effective about Shutter. While it’s hard not to compare it to other “haunted technology” films that came before it (like Ringu), the film has a good number of scary setpieces. I was quite partial to the flashing camera sequence in Tun’s studio, as well as the visual of Natre (Achita Sikamana) climbing down the fire escape ladder face first in the rain.
Do you have a specific scene or scare that you like to revisit or that comes to mind when you think of the film?
After seeing it for the first time, what stuck with me was the scene in the dark room. Jane pulls back the curtain to see who turned on the faucet, but no one is there. Then black hair slowly begins spilling over the rim of the sink. The white fingers reaching, the crown of a head coming into view. It scared me half to death when I first saw it.
Looking back at the film now, what impacts me the most is the final reveal when we see Natre sitting on Tun’s shoulders. She is the ghostly manifestation of his sins, literally weighing him down. As someone who has not always done things the right way in life, this stays on my heart more than anything else. Are our missteps in life compounded onto our physical bodies? Do our sins leave a mark on our souls?
It’s an extremely powerful moment. What surprised me is that while the final image is obviously played as “one last scare”, it’s quite a bit more emotional than I would have expected. There’s something heartfelt about this story of a girl who desperately wanted to be loved and while Tun isn’t a conventionally terrible guy, he definitely mistreated her and is paying the price for it.
Do you think that there’s something culturally-specific about the text and the way it presents ghosts/hauntings?
I’m not a scholar or anything, but I think that Thai culture plays a big part in how the story plays out. Thailand is predominantly Buddhist and Hindu in their religious leanings, and both of these teachings focus heavily on karma. The idea that one’s intentional actions can follow them throughout their lives and into the next is pivotal, I think, to the scares that Shutter provides.
Natre sitting on Tun’s shoulders, weighing him down, is the physical manifestation of his karma. His actions (or inactions) will be with him forever.
Admittedly one element that didn’t play particularly well for me is the gay panic scene when Tun thinks that he’s being haunted by Natre in the roadstop bathroom before it is revealed that it is actually just a trans woman sex worker. How do you reconcile outdated (or less progressive) elements from older/international horror films?
I was definitely more ignorant to these issues back when I first saw it over a decade ago. After a recent rewatch, I had the same reaction you did to that scene. It reminded me of every American sitcom from the 90’s that used heterosexual fear of queer culture as a punchline. This scene is completely unnecessary, in my opinion. It could have been anyone in that bathroom, but the filmmakers chose to make it a trans person.
When I see cringey stuff like this, I try to remember that I am not who I was 20 years ago, either. I am a bisexual man, but when I was younger and unaware of the pain it causes, I used gay slurs when addressing myself or my friends. It makes me ashamed, but I have also learned from it and grown as an ally. When I see stuff like this, it serves as a reminder of how bad things still are and forces me to address hetero fearmongering whenever I see it.
It’s definitely just a blip in the film, which is otherwise quite impressive (and really holds up all of these years later!). It’s a solid 3.5/5 for me.
What’s your final rating (out of 5) for Shutter? And where can people get in touch with you if they want to follow up?
Shutter is one of my all time favorite horror films. Not just for the scares, but for the way it forces me to look inward and contemplate the consequences of my past actions. I give it a solid 4 out of 5, and the only thing keeping it from being perfect is the fact that some of it has not aged very well (like the scene addressed in your previous question). If anyone wants to hit me up and talk more about Shutter, asian horror, curses, ghosts, or karma, they can find me at @tyliston on Twitter and tylerliston on Letterboxd.
Next time: we’re headed back to the 40s to check out the Val Lewton classic, The Seventh Victim, with David Demchuk (@dd_toronto)