As we move towards the 20th anniversary of the trend of Hollywood remaking popular Asian horror films—most notably The Ring and The Grudge—I decided to do some comparing and contrasting of a few of the lower profile adaptations. So let’s get started with Shutter. You should be familiar with at least one of the films before reading this post.
I find the original Thai film to be creepier than the remake (no surprise there), but as always, I did find some changes in the U.S. version that either made sense or were more effective.
The original begins with our main male/female couple on their way home from a party at night. She’s distracted while driving and hits a young woman in the middle of the road. He convinces her to drive off.
He’s a professional photographer, and during a photo shoot at a graduation soon after, he sees a corpse of a woman standing among the students. In fact, all his photos get developed with weird streaks in them. He also begins to experience pain in his neck and shoulders that he assumes is from the accident.
Meanwhile, the girlfriend has a super creepy nightmare in a scene that so takes a page from Ringu. It involves a ghost girl climbing out of a water basin in her boyfriend’s dark room—black hair first, naturally.
And so the couple begins investigating the phenomenon of ghosts showing up in photos.
After another photo shoot at a studio, the guy experiences a visit from the ghost girl in a flashing camera light scene. Super scary and suspenseful but totally routine. He also has a nightmare in which he sees her with her eyes and mouth bleeding, but again it’s cliché.
The couple eventually learns several of his male friends have committed suicide, and he even witnesses one of them jump out a window.
Meanwhile, his girlfriend turns up a name of a young woman, and he is forced to come clean with her—he dated the girl while in school. She was weird, so he kept their relationship a secret, but eventually broke it off with her with the help of his friends.
The couple decides to go visit her to see how she’s doing, and during the ride he encounters a ghost girl again…clinging to the side of the moving car (thanks for the ride, lady!).
He also has a false alarm encounter at a rest stop in the men’s room stall with what I’m assuming is supposed to be a drag queen.
This is the really weird part of the Thai film. When they get to the girl’s house, they discover she has died and her mother has been keeping her corpse stashed away Norman Bates style. What the hell? They figure giving the dead girl a proper burial will rid them of her ghost so they throw her a funeral.
Fail! She ends up climbing into bed with them in a move right out of The Grudge, but the chase definitely did some damage to my mind.
First the bitch walks upside down on the ceiling, and then she scoffs at that pussy Sadako for using the stairs and instead takes a fire escape ladder down. Eek!
Meanwhile, the main girl gets more photos developed that reveal the ghost girl climbing up a bookcase in the living room, so she searches it and finds more photos to develop that reveal the awful truth, which the main guy then cops to when he comes home. His friends raped the girl he wanted to dump, and when he walked in on them they made him take pictures to use as blackmail if she didn’t leave him alone. So the girl eventually couldn’t live with that and committed suicide. There was no car accident ghost girl looking for revenge. Suicide ghost girl apparently just figured out how to be a road crossing ghost girl who gets hit by a car just for attention.
The big payoff is the main guy’s battle with her when he uses his camera around his apartment to try to see her. The big zinger photo reveals that she has been sitting on his shoulders the whole time. Struggling to get her off, he falls out the window.
He ends up in a mental hospital, his girlfriend comes to visit him, and we see in a reflection that the ghost is still with him.
Naturally the U.S. remake casts two pretty people as the main couple—Joshua Jackson and Rachael Taylor. However, this film begins with them getting married and then flying off to Tokyo, where he lands a photography job—and so that a creepy Asian ghost girl can remain intact.
This is where I feel the U.S. remake totally fixed a whole lot just by altering one scene. Rachael is driving and hits the girl crossing the road at night. However, this time they get out and even call the cops, but there’s no body. This not only removes the stigma on both characters for driving away from the scene of a crime as established in the original, allowing us to empathize with them longer, but it also clears up that the girl crossing the road is already supernatural. In the original film, I seriously thought the girl they hit in the road was meant as a red herring to make us think that she dies and became the ghost haunting them, and the scene of her clinging on to the side of their car later on confused matters for me even more. That scene does not occur in the U.S. version, even though it is a goodie. Instead, we get a lame nightmare sequence of Rachael dreaming about the girl climbing on the front of her car, which also replaces the cool dark room nightmare scene from the original.
This film quickly Americanizes the plot, with Rachael being the one to suspect a ghost, Josh acting like she’s crazy even though he’s experiencing shit himself, and Rachael noticing some oddly suspect behaviors between Josh and his friends that clue her in to the possibility that he isn’t exactly who she thought he was.
The investigating about ghosts in photos is mostly the same, but Josh’s flashbulb ghost attack scene at the studio is a typical frenetic American take on the sequence that has about half the impact of the slow burn pace of the original scene.
When he reveals his past relationship with the dead girl, her story has changed somewhat. She isn’t painted as a pathetic girl he felt bad for. Instead, her father didn’t approve of their relationship, but then he died and she changed and became clingy. I actually like this tweak to the story, because in the original it seemed exceptionally cruel that the guy just secretly dated her out of pity and would even ignore her and mock her with his friends in public.
To up the “body count” for U.S. audiences, we see the main guy’s friends die. The first is subjected to an exploding camera attack.
The second does the window jump, happens to be Pam’s first man Roy from The Office, and takes the dive shirtless. Yay!
Next comes another major change that I much prefer. When they go visit the girl, she lives alone and they find her dead body. No mother storyline at all, a plot point I found to be just plain weird in the original. The decision to remove it here was clearly made later in the game by the filmmakers, because it is included in the deleted scenes on the Blu-ray.
The climb into bed with the couple is briefer, but it’s also less of a rip-off of The Grudge and tosses in some icky sexual elements just for the fun of it. However, the awesome hall ceiling chase and ladder scene are gone. Bummer.
Another minor change I like is that the developed photos of the ghost girl don’t simply lead to a bookshelf in the main room of the apartment; Rachael has to think a bit on it and determines that the ghost girl is leading her through a wall into the dark room. To give her a break after all that thinking, she doesn’t have to develop any film, because the photos of what happened to the girl are on an SD card in a camera.
Here the main guy is painted as much more of a vial human. He was actually in on the plans to take damning photos of the girlfriend, and the flashbacks of her being victimized are much more gut-wrenching than in the original.
The finale ramps up the battle with the ghost girl, and it is ridiculously over-the-top, with him frying himself with camera equipment in his effort to get her off his back.
And finally, the scene at the mental hospital is much more satisfying because Rachael is not there to visit his miserable ass. In a deleted scene she is present…but only to dump their wedding rings on his dinner tray before the nurse brings it in to him, which is just as satisfying.
I wish I could have covered Shutter One, the Thai sequel to the original that was released a year after the U.S. remake, but I was unable to locate it in any way shape or form to watch. Which means…my fricking collection of Shutter movies is incomplete on my shelves. Grr…argh.