Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Mature Thematic Material, Disturbing Images/Terror/Violence, and some Sensuality
Directed by: Takashi Shimizu
Written by: Stephen Susco
Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr, William Mapother, Clea DuVall, KaDee Strickland, Grace Zabriskie, Bill Pullman, Rosa Blasi, Ted Raimi
In the overcrowded sea of American remakes based on Asian horror films, THE GRUDGE is actually one of the better efforts. Though not without some obvious faults, the film is an intriguing ghost story that isn’t too graphic for a teenage audience and not too watered down for those craving a solid scare. Directed by Takashi Shimizu (who helmed the original film titled JU-ON), this film was a box office sensation in Halloween season 2004. I remember not being able to walk down the hall of my Junior High without hearing some group of teenage girls blabbing away about how terrifying it was. When I eventually got around to watching it at that young age of 14, I was drastically let down. Now that the hype and my skepticism have long since gone away, I really dig what THE GRUDGE dishes out, even if it’s just a decent movie overall.
Much like other films in the original Japanese JU-ON series, THE GRUDGE doesn’t follow a linear plot. It actually has multiple storylines that aren’t told in chronological order and this only adds to the mystery of what the hell is going on and how certain characters are linked to each other. Every storyline revolves around a cursed house in Tokyo. In the walls of this seemingly ordinary home, a tragedy occurred that left two rage-filled ghosts within. One is a contorting, croaking woman named Kayako and the other his her pale son, Toshio, who emits the cries of a cat. As far as the living characters surrounding this ever-broadening mystery go, There’s a home caregiver, Karen, who has been assigned to take care of Emma, an old woman suffering from dementia. We also follow Emma’s family members as they are stalked by the evil spirits. This movie’s formula is that if you step inside the cursed house, then you’re most likely going to die a horrible death at the hands of these spirits.
One thing that needs to be understood about THE GRUDGE is that it does rely heavily on Japanese folklore. Some of these ideas might come off as unintentionally cheesy to American audiences, though the box office receipt from this film would beg to differ. The main one is of Kayako’s ghost as an “onryo” (a long-haired, white-faced spirit that can inflict damage on the world of the living). The croaking death rattle she makes will be terrifying to some and downright silly to others. I didn’t find her full-blown horrifying, but there were definite quiet moments that creeped me out. It is usually in brief glimpses and moving shadows where the film excels, rather than some of the other-the-top effects employed during titular points (an all CGI ghost form still stupid upon close examination). The haunting musical score ups the suspense and if there’s one thing that THE GRUDGE gets very right, it’s a gloomy atmosphere.
Shimizu isn’t afraid to show some violence, but this is a story that mostly relies on spooky tension and lots of jump scares (none of which affected me, but then again, I’m jaded when it comes to horror films). I can imagine that this movie would cause quite a stir if a group of pre-teens (who hadn’t ever been allowed to watch an R-rated movie) were to view it. It’s an eerie film and I applaud it for that, but there are still some problems that stick out and ultimately detracted from my overall enjoyment.
My qualms with the movie begin in the storylines themselves. While there are admittedly some really good ones at play, others are far less interesting to watch. The plot is at the same time complex and simple. The complex comes in the unconventional jumping-around in time between characters and the simple comes in that the viewer knows very well how this is all probably going to end. There are some gaping plot holes and underdeveloped characters, but the script employs the use of nightmare logic and is done artistically enough that I cut some slack on these two problems for the whole unnerving experience. The movie does especially go into some far-fetched areas in the final 10 minutes and characters make dumb decisions (as they mostly do in horror films). The final shot is worth it and sends things off on an appropriately chilling note.
THE GRUDGE has plot holes and some underdeveloped characters. It also has some images that can be regarded as borderline campy. However, it employs enough of a beautiful style and some truly disturbing moments that it warrants a recommendation. It’s not a great film and is undermined by a somewhat messy script that manages to skirt the line between clever and predictable, but it is a decent film to throw on for a spooky mood. This is actually a horror film I’d recommend for parents to watch with their preteen children around Halloween, knowing of course that it will likely scare the bejesus out of their kids. Gorehounds and those looking for a balls-to-the-wall scarefest might not necessarily advocate this film, but I’d say you’re safe giving it a shot. A creative mess that sports some really scary imagery!