Ok, so if you read my review of Ju-On, you already know that I was no big fan of the original film on which The Grudge is based. In fact, after seeing the original, my standards were so low coming into The Grudge that I figured it just had to be better. There I go again, wishing for the impossible, or at least unlikely. What did come as a surprise is that The Grudge is actually far worse than the crappy original it remakes.
The story is basically this: There is a bad house in Japan where horrible murders once happened. The house is cursed and holds a vengeful grudge over anyone who inhabits it. Sarah Michelle Gellar is Karen, an American exchange student studying social work. When another nurse doesn’t show up for work one day, Karen is sent over to the spook house to look in on the catatonic old woman, Emma (Grace Zabriskie), who is all alone at the house during the day. Karen soon comes into contact with the many oddities of the house, such as a pale little boy who is hiding out in a taped up closet. It turns out that the young couple who bought the house are missing along with the nurse, and Sarah Michelle sets out to figure out what’s up along with a Detective Nakagawa (Ryo Ishibashi), who’s been tracking the strange occurrences in the house. The supporting cast includes Jason Behr, Kadee Strickland, Bill Pullman, Clea Duvall and William Mapother.
Boy, this movie is just plain poor. Where to start… Okay, let’s start with the film’s non-existent scares. After all, this is a horror movie, right? Or so I thought. In The Grudge, scares mostly consist of creepy music with sudden loud sounds or someone popping out. Original, right? Whenever “The Grudge” is near, there is a sound that is similar to a frog croaking. Then look out, because there are a few creepy characters lurking behind doors, underwater, in the shower and in closets: There’s a big black hair monster that hovers in the air, there’s a little green girl with dark eyes that get wide when she’s supposed to be spooky, there’s fingers popping out of hair and then there’s that little boy, who sometimes looks a little green, but either way he mostly just stares forward and says nothing. I’m sure I left out a few, but it really doesn’t matter. They aren’t scary, but at least they are a little funny. At the screening I went to, we were all making our own croaking noises as we left the film.
As far as director Takashi Shimizu goes, I didn’t like either version of the film. I’m not sure about his other works, but The Grudge and Ju-On are just pale imitators of horror films of the past, particularly the far superior The Ring and Ringu, on which The Ring was based. The whole little girl with long, dark hair in her face has been exhausted to the point of absolutely comedy by now. I’m not sure why people thought this image was all that scary in the first place, but surely it’s been done to death by now. Shimizu shows no particular depth or originality. He shamelessly pleas in scenes that are more nap-inducing than terrifying.
The main reason that The Grudge is actually slightly worse than its not-so-great counterpart is the acting. Sarah Michelle Gellar is just terrible in the film. In fairness, there really isn’t a lot for her character to do except to look curious, look surprised and look scared, but she’s not even good at that here. There is none of the gutsy, tough character she made so famous in the Buffy series; she’s just the generic blonde girl that we usually get to see hacked up in horror movies. Jason Behr is in the film for no particular reason. He smiles a “Gee, I’m handsome,” smile a lot, but is little more than boy toy eye candy and a device for a forced and pointless romantic side story for Karen. Bill Pullman even looks a little lost in the role, as if maybe he’s just as confused as to what the hell this movie’s about as the rest of us.
The Grudge is not the worst film of the year, but that’s about the biggest compliment I can give it. It is a poor attempt at a horror-thriller and an insult to fans of the genre. Sam Raimi’s Ghost House productions produced the film and Raimi’s name is appearing in many of the ads. It seems unlikely that Raimi had a large involvement in the film, since there is nothing close to a hint of the brilliance Raimi has in the past exhibited with similar material. Unfortunately, since the trailer makes the film look far better than it is and many are surely gearing up for Halloween, it stands to be a success. I urge you to instead see Saw (releasing on Oct. 29), which is everything this film is not, and one of the best horror-thrillers of recent years.