I imported Shutter on a whim nearly three years ago. This was when I was going to FSU, living by myself in a one-bedroom. More specifically, it was during a period when I was watching Asian films almost exclusively — somewhere in the neighborhood of 12+ per week, thanks to an indie store called Video 21 and their kickass Asian bootlegs.
I mention this to establish a point: not only had I seen it all, I’d seen it all in a fairly short time. I was supplementing the Video 21 diet with a few private sources of my own, so by the time I got Shutter in the mail I wasn’t in a rush to tear into it. I had pretty much reached my saturation point for film of that ilk. It sat unwrapped for weeks, until Christine came down from VA and we had, at her suggestion, what was our first horror marathon ever. We blacked out the windows, lined up a day’s worth of movies and kicked it.
I don’t remember everything we watched, but I do remember Shutter. It stood out even after months of pictures just like it. It was this little, unknown Thai film banking on the Yurei ghost-story style of Japan. A style now all too familiar in America, even though average Whitey still jumps at memories of seeing the Ring for the first time. Pale women with jet black hair down to their waist, coming out of every potential shadow to sate a grudge or two against some sap who moved into the wrong apartment. Shutter is not that unique, but it was refreshing and stood out all the same. I may not remember all the movies we watched that day, but I remember Shutter sped up hearts, slowed down lungs and tightened up the hand holding.
A perfect horror date flick if there ever was one.
Three years later, I found myself, once again at the suggestion of my lovely girlfriend Christine, programming a line up for another day of blacked out windows. And three years later I found myself leaving a special slot for the sophomore film from the pair behind Shutter. That film is Alone, and while I won’t say the summit of Mount Asian Horror has finally been reached – despite the pool filling ever more with candidates, I think Asian Horror has yet to produce a timeless masterpiece – Wongpoom and Pisanthanakun at least planted another flag a little closer to the top. Once again they prove kings of the Thai fright film, providing matched amounts of shivers, jumps and thoughts of, "Fuck Ghosts!"
Pim and Ploy were born twins conjoined at the hip. As early teens, Pim, much to Ploy’s opposition, pushed for surgical separation at a special hospital for disabled children. Ploy, unfortunately dies during the operation. Years later, Pim and husband Wee (whom she met at the hospital as a teen) return to Pim’s childhood home after her mother has a stroke. Ploy returns as well. And Ploy is not happy about the choice her sister made.
It is a good scenario complemented by a pair of writer/directors who know just how to engineer the kind of scares crowds want. Anyone with half a brain can see the signs coming from a mile away. We are all tuned to the implications of a rise or fall in music, a slow panning shot and lots of negative space for scary women with waist-long black hair to jump out of. I know what to expect, you know what to expect. Wongpoom and Pisanthanakun know we know what to expect. They light signal fires guiding viewers to the scare. What makes them professionals at what they do is the journey between us spotting those signal fires and reaching them. Every slow walk up the stairs is just as tense as the one ten minutes before it — that is a consistency I admire.
Yurei style ghosts are inherently scary. Most ghosts are, but an Asian cast and a pale actress are not always enough. See films with them as centerpieces one too many times and you’ll feel like I did before going into Shutter. You’ve seen it all before, but damned if someone new to the game doesn’t find a way to still reach that panic button at the nape of your neck. That spot where little hairs stand like soldiers.
The writer/director duo may still be relegated to ruling the Thailand section of Mount Asian Horror, but they are fine tunning their craft. The cinematography of Alone is more cinematic than what they’ve proved capable of in the past. They’ve obviously studied A Tale of Two Sisters several times, taking note as to the visual art of that film, while also being smart enough to ignore its incomprehensible story and twists.
The plot of Alone may not have an identical twin elsewhere, but does share a familiar enough agenda. The approach, however, is less routine than you’d come to expect. There is an air of vintage to the method by which the story is unraveled. An almost Hitchcock take on storytelling most welcome at a time when horror lacks respect for pace, character, style and grandeur.
The genre, to me, has never been a pissing contest to see who can put up with gross imagery the longest. Unfortunately macho boundary pissing contests are what define Hollywood horror these days, so Alone is not going to win over Joe Frat Boy at Best Buy with a copy of Hostel II in his hand. Ghost films have forever been likened to something girls should be afraid of, while men soak up their slashers. I prefer my films without drums full of blood and close ups of open wounds. That just doesn’t do anything for me anymore. It takes someone and something with smarts to win me over, even if they’re playing in familiar territory. I’ve got far more respect for the men and women who top themselves without a need to re-cut their film after submitting to the MPAA. Which is why I’m all for films like Alone, even if imperfect.
I’m not in a macho pissing contest. I don’t need to pretend ghosts don’t freak my shizzle the hell out. They do. They always have. Alone is evidence enough to prove they always will.