Monday, October 7, 2013

The Remake Comparison Project - Passion Twists the Spirit

Cody and Priscilla's Remake Comparison Project continues with a look at the 2004 Thai film Shutter and its 2008 Americanization.

SHUTTER (2004)

If you know me, or read our Apartment 1303 Remake Comparison collaboration, you know all about my love for South Korean movies and how I usually pick them when in the mood for Asian horror, with some exceptions. Talking about those movies with Cody, I found out he had never seen Shutter, and since I've always really liked the original I thought it'd be one he'd probably get into; it is a ghost story, but it's not too long and there's only one hair scare scene in it. So, this movie from Thailand is one of my exceptions and sounded like a very good choice.

It starts at an after hours wedding reception where four men who seem to be really close are drinking a lot, accompanied by a woman who doesn't appear to be drinking at all. One man is the groom, Tonn. The characters among the group who the story mainly focuses on are Tun, a young photographer, and his girlfriend Jane.

After the men have one last drink, Jane drives herself and Tun home. We can tell that their relationship is fairly new, and as they get to sweet talking like new couples do, Jane gets distracted... and in that instant a woman attempts to walk across the street right in front of them. The car hits the woman, then Jane loses control of it and ends up driving through a billboard. She wants to get out of the car to check if the woman is even still alive, but Tun makes her start the car and rush out of there. This puts a strain on their relationship, because Jane has no idea why Tun would do something like that and she's still very concerned about the woman's fate.

As Jane and Tun drive away, leaving the woman their car hit lying in the middle of the road either wounded or dead, I was really questioning what sort of characters this movie was sticking us with. There was no reason for them to just leave the scene, because as far as we have seen Jane was a designated driver and sober.

Women are known to be a lot more submissive in their culture, so when he made her leave the scene she felt like she had no other choice. But she didn't appreciate it at all and we can see that in the next few scenes. He was being shady because deep down he knew what was going on.

Knowing this was to be a ghost story, I knew they had some retribution coming their way, maybe something along the lines of a more subdued version of the Hitchhiker segment of Creepshow 2. Thankfully, the ghost didn't waste any time getting to the haunting, either.

Tun takes pictures at a graduation ceremony and when he picks them up, he notices some have a white shadow in them and questions the photo store owner about it. He blames it on bad focus or camera problems... But that doesn't explain the fact that the figure Tun sees in one picture turns its head to look at him.

Once Jane sees them, she feels there's more to the pictures than just the usual photography problems, which makes her look into it further. She and Tun end up at a place that publishes magazines featuring spirit photographs. The man in charge admits that most of them are fake, that he is simply giving the readers what they want, but then proceeds to show them real ones and explains that when that happens, the spirit is tied to someone in the picture and is also trying to send a message, which should be found in the pictures themselves.

By then Jane and Tun experience weird things and are clearly being haunted by a ghost woman. After having an encounter with the ghost in the darkroom -

The film's one aforementioned moment featuring "scare hair", and quite an effective one.

I thought that if there ever was a time when Cody would actually appreciate a hair scare, this would be it.

Jane gets really freaked out and is convinced it has something to do with the woman they hit. Tun, on the other hand, doesn't seem too freaked out, and we'll later find out why.

They learn that no one got hurt in the accident, there have been no reports on someone getting hit by a car, but Jane still doesn't believe it. Looking closer at the pictures that have the shadows in them, she realizes they're all indicating some sort of relation to a room at a campus building and goes there to check it out. It's a large, rather creepy room, like a lab, filled with animals in jars and the sort. With her Polaroid camera (Polaroid pictures are supposed to be more truthful, since you can't manipulate them while they're being developed) she takes pictures trying to find some type of answer, and the ghost appears in one of them. A picture falls from the wall, which is how she finds out about a girl named Natre, someone Tun and his drinking buddies once knew.

Tun comes home to find Tonn in his apartment and we can tell that they were involved in something serious as Tonn, all upset and not acting like himself, asks Tun about certain, secret pictures, then leaves. Worried about how his friend looked, Tun goes to Tonn's apartment and finds it all trashed... things all over the floor, a broken mirror. As he looks over, Tonn goes to the balcony and jumps off to his death. His wife approaches Tun, devastated, blaming him and his other friends, since the other two from their group had also killed themselves by jumping off of buildings.

I wonder if it's merely a coincidence that the first two pairs of movies Priscilla has chosen to show me have involved ghost driving people to jump off of buildings, or if she's trying to send me a subliminal suggestion.

I've just now realized that there are indeed a lot of people jumping off of buildings in the two movies combined. They're probably the only two Asian movies I've seen that have so many. So yes, it's a huge coincidence. Not a suggestion, subliminal or otherwise.

This is the first Tun has heard about his friends dying and he is now terrified. So much so, that when Jane confronts him he tells her the whole story. Well, almost everything... Natre was a girl he met in college. She kept to herself and didn't have any friends, so he took it upon himself to be her friend, but it went further and they started dating. They seemed to be happy for a while, but his feelings for her were based on pity, while she was completely in love with him. He was ashamed to let anyone know about their relationship, especially his friends because they thought she was a loser. He breaks up with her and she tries to kill herself. Not being a very nice guy, just like his friends, he tells them about it, and we find later on that they assaulted her, and as she was begging for Tun's help, he took pictures of the whole thing happening as a means to blackmail her into silence. The pictures of the incident are what Tonn was looking for earlier in the movie.

I had wondered why the accident victim would be going after Tun's friends, and this turn of events was a really good twist that took the film off in a totally unexpected direction for me. This isn't a simple "hit and run revenge" story after all, it had a whole other level to it.

Since no one knew what happened to Natre after the assault, Jane and Tun decide to go looking for her.

I do have to point out that Shutter has one of the strangest moments I've ever seen in a serious horror movie. While travelling toward Natre's home, Tun has to take a gas station restroom break. As he sits on the toilet, someone else enters the restroom and takes the stall next to his. Finding that his roll of toilet paper is insufficient, Tun has to ask his neighbor to pass some over - and when a hand reaches a roll under the wall to him, Tun is shocked and scared to see that the hand has long fingernails painted with red polish. The idea that the movie might want me to be scared by red polished nails holding onto a roll of toilet paper was ridiculous and amusing enough, but then Tun rushes over to the neighboring stall to confront his fears and kicks its door open, revealing - a transsexual sitting on the toilet, the surprise of the stall door banging open causing a little fart to slip out. Tun runs away without using any more toilet paper. Putting that moment in the film was a really odd choice.

I knew the transsexual scene would probably be one of the craziest to Cody. What was even funnier is that before Tun runs away, the transsexual says something like "After I poo", which suggests Tun was being offered certain favors/services.

They eventually find Natre's house and her mother, who believes her daughter is still alive. She isn't... her mom is just keeping her corpse in her bedroom.

There are shades of Psycho in this discovery, and this bit was sort of confusing to me, because everyone in their village knew that Natre was dead. Apparently in this area you can keep a rotting human corpse in your house with no repercussions beyond some social shunning.

Again, it has to do with culture, I've been told. Not that it's a normal, everyday thing there, but it's not as absurd as it would be for us. That's why in the remake her corpse is sitting there alone, making it seem like no one even knew she was there. Even though she is in Japan in that one, it would probably be a little too much for American audiences.

They convince the mother that Natre needs to be cremated, which they believe will put her spirit to rest. The cremation happens and things seem calm for a while after that, but Jane soon finds out about what really happened, the part Tun was keeping from her, and everything makes sense... why all of his friends killed themselves the way they did, why he's had pain on his shoulders since the accident, what happened during his medical check-up earlier in the movie, and the reason behind the look he gets from a young boy during search for answers with Jane. And Jane leaves him.

This movie is really good. The acting is pretty decent, the writing and directing are solid, the score is good, and there are some interesting locations. It moves along at a nice pace and the story is well told.

There are a few chilling moments like Natre bleeding from the eyes and puking blood, and when she's chasing Tun down a fire escape ladder during a rainstorm.

The ladder chase scene was my favorite creepy part. It's one thing for a creature to walk down a hallway on the ceiling, as Natre does soon before they reach the ladder, but going down a ladder upside down is something else entirely. That's just not right.

The most chilling moment for me, by far, is what's revealed at the end. The Asian culture is probably the most superstitious and prone to believing in supernatural elements, but here in South America there are a lot of people who believe in things like that, too... so I guess that's why I never got over how creepy those last moments were. It stuck with me for quite a while after watching the movie for the first time a few years ago.

Priscilla made a good choice with this one, because as with Apartment 1303 she recommended an Asian ghost story for me to watch that I found to be quite enjoyable. As she noted in the beginning, Shutter avoids the elements that I find to be pitfalls when it comes to Asian horror - there's not too much scare hair and the pace keeps things moving along during its agreeable 92 minute running time. The story was much deeper and more layered than I went in expecting it to be, with twists and turns along the way that kept things interesting.

I thought that since I'm always talking about Asian horror, the next movie should have more substance than Apartment 1303. That one is good too, but Shutter delivers plot twists and creepier moments in general. I felt like it'd be the perfect movie to try and get Cody into them.

SHUTTER (2008)

The American version of Shutter was released into the world four years later, with an unexpected approach taken to Americanizing the Thai story: rather than to the United States, the setting was moved to Japan, with a Japanese director hired to bring this new take to the screen.

The remake tells basically the same story, with a few differences. The two main characters, Ben and Jane (Tun and Jane in the original), are getting married and the movie starts at their wedding. They're moving from New York to Japan an hour after the reception, because Ben had a job offer as a photographer. Ben has lived in Japan before, but this is Jane's first time leaving the U.S., she got her passport specifically so she could go with Ben.

Once in Japan but before Ben starts work, they have planned to have a very short honeymoon stay at a cabin nestled in the beautiful countryside. While driving along the snowy, forest-shrouded road on the way to the cabin, Jane is momentarily distracted by checking the map, and in that moment a woman comes out of nowhere and attempts to cross the road right in front of them. The car hits the woman, then Jane loses control of it and ends up hitting a tree very hard, the impact knocking both her and Ben unconscious. As Jane passes out, she sees the woman still moving on the road... When they regain consciousness, the woman is gone.

I liked that Ben and Jane do everything right in this moment, there's nothing shady about how the situation is handled. They get out of the car to look for the woman, but can't find her. The police are called and check things out, there is no sign anywhere of the woman who was hit. She's just gone.

This was probably done so the audience would remain sympathetic with the characters rather than questioning their motives, and it lessens the thought that this is all happening just because of a hit and run. It's more clearly what it truly is - not our characters harming a person, but in fact the first ghostly event.

Jane is still bothered by this incident during their brief honeymoon, but before they know it it's time to go to Tokyo so Ben can get to work at a job that his old friends, fellow Americans, and obvious womanizers Bruno and Adam have helped set up for him. Bruno shows the newlyweds to the studio apartment they'll be living in, and they seem very happy about it. For a short while.

Then strange things start happening; images appear in photographs and reflections, Ben has a severe pain in his neck and shoulders, he hears the voice of a woman... Ben's primary reaction is to get frustrated because it's interfering with his work. When Jane starts talking to him about the occurrences and how she thinks it's connected to the woman they hit, he makes it sound like she's crazy and only doing it for attention, even though he knows better.

Very similar to the original, Jane ends up knowing about the spirit photo magazine...

The spirit photo magazine was brought into this one in a rather clunky manner. In the original, Tun and Jane just stopped by the place in their search for answers. This time, Jane returns to the studio Ben is having a photo shoot in after taking a walk around Tokyo, lets one of his co-workers take a look at her tourist snaps, and this woman, who immediately recognizes that there is a spirit lurking in Jane's photos, just happens to be the ex-girlfriend of the man who runs the magazine. Quite a coincidence.

Ben's co-worker introduces Jane to her spirit photo collecting and publishing ex, and with the information she gets from him about finding clues in the pictures, she goes to a building where she finds out about a girl named Megumi (Natre in the original), a girl Ben knew during his previous time in Japan. Jane makes him tell her about Megumi and he does, only leaving out a few important details, as in the original. He makes it sound like he was innocent and that she was a dangerous stalker. Ben and Jane decide they should move back to New York, but before they get a chance to, Adam and Bruno both end up dead.

Bruno repeats a jumping death from the original, but Adam gets a less psychological and much more sensational death... While he's taking some private pictures of a scantily clad model, Megumi's spirit shows up on the scene and murders him by jamming a ghost hand through his camera and into his head, leaving his eye socket a gaping wound. I'd be interested to know how the model would explain his death to the authorities. His camera exploded into his eyeball? It was kind of cool, but kind of goofy...

Soon after that, Ben and Jane receive their wedding pictures, which show that Megumi was already in there with them when they were back in the States. They realize moving wouldn't get them away from her, so they have to investigate the situation further. This leads them to Megumi's house, where she lived alone... and apparently no one has come to check on her for years, because her corpse has been sitting in there rotting for quite a while, undisturbed until Ben and Jane discover it.

The discovery is less Psycho this time, since the corpse hasn't been kept in a room by a relative, but the moment is still reminiscent of the Hitchcock classic because of the way director Masayuki Ochiai shot it, approaching the seated corpse from behind, focusing on the back of her head... But then, instead of the chair spinning around to reveal the decayed face, Megumi's head tips backward.

Megumi poisoned herself, a different end than the one Natre had, but her body is cremated like Natre was, with the idea/hope being that this act will put her spirit to rest.

Ben and Jane move back home to New York thinking their troubles are all over... until Megumi shows up again, leading Jane to a suitcase with a camera in it. After checking the camera's memory card, Jane finds out what really happened between Ben and Megumi. Like in the original, she leaves him after this and it makes him lose his mind, trying to get Megumi to appear in his truth-telling Polaroids...

The big moment didn't really do much for me this time around, I think just because I already knew about it.

Even though there are a lot of aspects that are extremely alike, I didn't feel like the story was anywhere near as well told in the remake as in the original. I did like the cinematography quite a bit with the nice New York and Tokyo shots, as well as the indoor sets like the studio apartment, which was very stylish and gave the movie some atmosphere. The acting was okay... Rachael Taylor was pretty good as Jane, but Joshua Jackson felt a bit uninspired and forced at times.

I agree on the acting, Taylor did quite well carrying the lead as Jane and proved to be better than she often gets credit for being, I know she and her cohorts did not get favorable reviews on their recent attempt at reviving Charlie's Angels. Jackson, on the other hand, has never been an interesting screen presence for me, at least not since the Mighty Ducks movies.

I think they show Megumi in her normal, non-ghost form too much, which takes away the creepiness of it all, and the actress that plays the role wasn't anywhere as scary as the one who played Natre in the original. The score was alright. The dark room scenes are not intense like the ones in the original and some of the CGI just felt weird and unnecessary, like the fly underneath Megumi's skin that crawls out onto her eye, and the monstruous tongue she sticks in Ben's mouth.

The ghost sequences were definitely lackluster compared to the ones in the original. The most effective one for me here was when the normal-looking Megumi ghost straddles Ben in bed, then removes her dress to reveal the disgusting, rotting body that it was hiding.

One thing that I found really interesting is that they bring up a very valid point by suggesting that Megumi wasn't just out to get Ben, just out for revenge and because of jealousy since he has a new woman now. It could also mean she was trying to warn Jane about the type of man he really is. I felt like that was a message they also tried to convey in the original, though in a more subtle way, so the fact that they did it more openly in the remake was compelling. Something else that is more obvious in this one is how truly passionate Ben is about being a photographer, so it makes sense that Megumi would haunt him through it.

Both movies are worth checking out, in my opinion. The remake lacks a certain something that is quite abundant in the original but is hard to describe and pinpoint. Even then, it's not a bad movie at all and I enjoy watching it every now and then.

The remake is much glossier and brighter than the film it's based on. It clearly went through a bit of a Hollywoodizing process, and the horror sequences are much less intense in this one. Even so, the story still holds up, and the remake really isn't bad. It's a solid retelling of the tale, and I agree that both versions are worth checking out.

It's interesting to note that it could be possible for us to do a whole other article about variations on Shutter, as there were two more remakes of it made in India - first, 2007's Sivi, which is in the Tamil language, then 2010's Click, which is in Hindi. Unfortunately, they don't both appear to be available to us with English subtitles at this time, so we can't do that right now, but it's a definite possibility for a future Remake Comparison entry.

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