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Tartan Video // Unrated // March 27, 2007
List Price: $22.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted April 4, 2007 | E-mail the Author
In the world of Asian horror, ghastly apparitions in the form of skinny, black-haired girls are dime a dozen. Done to death is a more appropriate phrase. Granted, it is a creepy visual that can deliver some spine-tingling chills if done properly. However, as reincarnation after reincarnation of horror films feature this same ideal, the potency is whittled down like a dry piece of wood.

Does Shutter, a Thai horror conception from directors Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom, stray far from this formula? Not really. But that shouldn't deter interest from this sharp horror creation in the slightest. Instead, it fluently utilizes this familiar recipe, adds a heaping dash of traditional scare tactics here and there, and creates a rich story that is both simple and quite potent. Something frighteningly wonderful arises amidst this new concoction. Though it leans on premises set by past Asian ghost stories, Shutter onslaughts the audience with a fresh bombardment of ambient, dramatic, and ghastly tense flavor amidst a chilling, electric atmosphere.

The Film:

Snapshots of paranormal activity have existed for years now. Those blurry lights and facially reminiscent blobs within photography still possess an eerie essence, even with the modern marvels of technology. Tun, a professional photographer, is plagued by these images. After he gets a few photos developed of a school graduation, the streaked white blurs and an ominous haphazard shape of a face appear within the shots. As the spectral figures start to seep further into his work, Tun's closest friends start to die one after the other in odd fashion. Does this all have something to do with the hit-and-run accident him and his girlfriend Jane experienced a few nights before?

Shutter possesses an undemanding yet potent plot that slowly unravels as tension mounts between these two lovers. Keeping a straightforward storyline without any major plot eccentricities opens up the opportunity for a stringent atmosphere. That's not to say the story does not grow more interesting as time passes; a darker past bubbling within Tun's soul begins to surface as the mystery behind the potent haunting slowly begins to show its own horrific face. The past would come back to haunt Tun and his love, fueled with vengeance and insurmountable anguish. There will not be peace until satisfaction is earned.

What Shutter lacks in drastically diverse plot originality, it more than makes up for in atmospheric manipulation. Yes, these plot quirks seem fairly familiar, probably reminiscent of more than one source. These common plot elements within Shutter are actually modest, proficient alterations upon the norm that are welded onto a unique and engaging story. In execution, Shutter takes these familiar elements and ramps them up a few decibels. Through crafty, efficiently slick editing, the well-timed flow flutters and sparks like kamikaze firecrackers with an agenda. With such a precise tempo, it's very possible to suffer from a severe case of tight muscles and an injured tailbone from sitting on seat's edge. The traditional tricks pulled during this terrific ghost story can send chills screeching up the spine in high fashion.

Shutter also effectively relies on character strength and bonding as a potent deviant from the formula. Tun is not a simple individual. Wonderfully portrayed by Ananda Everingham, he naturally depicts a pensive and emotionally weathered photographer distraught over his possessed art form. Most of this depth lies within facial expressions and demeanor, not within the dialogue. Once the supernatural activity kicks into gear, Tun's shift in demeanor is clearly illustrative of a condemned past. It is subtle, yet effective. Also quite effective are the important people within Tun's life, namely his closely-knit group of friends and his beloved Jane (Natthaweeranuch Thongmee). However, one of the most impeccably portrayed characters in the film is the harbinger of Tun's past, the trademark ghastly apparition. Trust in the fact that "it" is one of the best characterized, zealous, and sublimely frightening renditions of the typical phantasm model - not to mention impeccably embodied by Achita Sikamana.

This film is a real treat, whether it is for Asian horror fans or general followers of spectral suspenseful thrillers. Prepare for a tense and well-crafted flick, nonetheless. Though there are a few startling exceptions, gore and violence aren't extraordinarily abundant in Shutter, much like they aren't in many films of the sort. Where the intensity lies is within a silky smooth atmosphere ripe to get lost in. Getting lost in such a tight, edgy supernatural thriller is one tremendously enthralling experience. Shutter is an amazing supernatural blast from start to finish.

The DVD:

Shutter is presented from Tartan Video as an Asia Extreme title. Included is a slipcover replicating the nice coverart, a fold-out chapter listing insert, and great, simple discart.

The Video:

The visuals in Shutter aren't meant to be beautiful works of art, by any means. It's a fairly stripped-down horror flick with a quality sense of framing regarding the photography and ambient lighting. The usage of color and detail is an essential component with the film. These points shine quite well in the anamorphic widescreen image. Naturally a subdued image with blurry overtones, the sinister vibes are captured well through this aesthetic choice. Color levels ranging from blistering reds to the complacent monotone shades littered throughout the runtime appeared strong. The black levels seem rather deep, as well. Even though some dust and scratches appeared here and there and the transfer is a shade on the grainy and blurry side, Shutter's visual presentation reflects the tone of the film nicely without any major dreadful blemishes.

The Audio:

Tartan is a prominent supplier of wonderful aural tracks, including a DTS option on most of its releases. Shutter is no exception, sporting a mean Thai DTS 5.1 audio presentation. Though this flick is a visually stripped-down beauty, the reliance on the audio for ambient effects is heavy. And, boy, does Tartan deliver some chills with a spine-tingling, robust audio presentation. Doors slamming, aural chords screeching, thuds, bumps, everything echoed furiously through the presentation. The voices poured through crisp and clean through this presentation, as well. In an alternate comparison with the nicely done Dolby track included, the DTS does pack a noticeably heavier punch. Though not a consistent barrage of sound pouring through at all times, the equally quiet moments add to the chilly atmosphere. This DTS track is an excellent accompaniment with a film as electrically charged as Shutter. As mentioned, a Dolby 5.1 Audio track is also avaailable, as well as a 2.0 Stereo track. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are included.

The Subtitles:

Though most of the film is cleanly presented with these subtites, there are a few grammatical errors here and there. It's not very far from perfect and undoubtedly fully legible; however, in regards to this disc coming from Tartan who has a fantastic track record in this area, these subtitles could be just a little bit better.

The Extras:

Thankfully, though it is a bit of a double-edged sword, it seems like most of the extras from the Region 3 release of Shutter are ported over to this Region 1 release without any additions.

An Original Trailer features a little bit too much of the core strong elements of the film. It's definitely a recommended watch, but one that should probably wait until after the feature.

The Interview With Director and Cast sheds a bit of general insight on some of the surface level elements of the film. This seems more like an introduction to a full Behind The Scenes portion. Hearing from the two directors and the cast regarding their motivation and intents are honest and interesting.

Then, the Behind The Scenes segment leads into explanations of four different elements, the Car Crash, the Suicide, the Ladder scene, and a Real Picture on Location portion which shows the possible capture of a specter at a shooting for the film. Each of these short segments highlights major plot ponts throughout the film, getting the director and actor's insight on the process. Each segment is ended with a fairly campy marketing message that might imply television origins of the material.

Wrapping up the extra features is a trailer mosaic of Tartan Asia Extreme DVDs available for purchase.

Though nothing else in regards to extensive special features are included with this DVD, at least these extras (as well as the film itself) are now available on a Region 1, easily accessible disc. Even though they aren't in abundance, these additions are quick, nicely charged, and undemanding extras that ropund out the disc nicely.


Final Thoughts:

Shutter takes everything of quality about the typical ghost story incarnations from Asia and creates a separate, potent creation that is truly and unnervingly frightful. Fans of this genre of flicks should be as comfortable as a fish in water with this quality piece. Along with a sharp aural presentation and a serviceable display of extras, this accessible disc is one undoubtedly worth checking out. It's a shame the picture quality isn't a tad bit cleaner, the subtitles aren't perfectly refined, and a few more extras of substance aren't included. However, these points merely take this disc away from being outstanding. Without doubt, Tartan's presentation of Shutter comes Highly Recommended.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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