The Grudge (2004) – Film Review

Directed by: Takashi Shimizu

Screenplay by: Stephen Susco

Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ted Raimi, Jason Behr, Takako Fuji

Running Time: 92 minutes

J’s Verdict: ☆☆

Remember the surge of Japanese Horror Cinema in the early 2000’s?

I certainly do.

The Grudge. Pulse. Dark Water. The Ring / Ringu. One Missed Call. As a teen back in 2004, the influence of tormented women with long wet hair in dirty white gowns reached even me in my sleepy country town. As a horror fan absorbing everything I could get my hands on, Japanese Horror blew my mind.

Here was this startling approach to the genre I’d never seen before. There was a sense of unease and disquiet the likes of which were unique to me after seeing one American horror film after the other. I was taken aback, weirded out and any trope I knew of was off the table. I was in new territory.

And then! The sub-genre itself started to become a bit overly familiar, the market at the time being saturated with bastardised American remakes and sequels and dank water and curses and such. I become accustomed to the style. And soon, when audiences and I had enough, it disappeared entirely. It was a trend left behind.

Anyway. Enough about that. I watched The Grudge just now, the American remake by Takashi Shimizu, the director of the original. 14 years ago I saw it in a sleepy cinema and it gave me many a-sleepless nights. And how is it now?

If you have never heard of The Grudge, here’s the basic run down – it’s said that those who die a particularly sorrowful and nasty death leave a curse on that place of death – and anybody who crosses past that place is doomed to cross paths with the curse itself.

Sarah Michelle Gellar plays Karen, an American social worker living in Tokyo who happens to be assigned to that house to check in on its new occupants. There, she finds herself face to face with some vengeful spirits.

I don’t know if its a result of the film ageing or me as a seasoned horror buff but the events don’t pack quite the same punch as they used to do for me. For one thing, the approach to scares, either in concept or in cinematography seem strange in retrospect. What then seemed so left field and bizarre that it worked now falls a bit flat.

The film’s tropes are harder to swallow on the repeat viewing too. At one point the second-in-command detective asks Detective Nakagawa ‘Do you think it has anything to do with what happened in that house three years ago?’ – or words to that effect – and I had to resist a good eye roll at the clunky dialogue.

Clunky writing is something that weaves in and out of The Grudge. Just take note of the scene where William Mapother’s Matthew awkwardly addresses his wife Jennifer (played by Clea DuVall) and her alienation in being in a new city – or how exposition comes in the form of a lazy premonition.

I will say that the mood still lingers effectively, thanks not only to Christopher Young’s creepy piano motif but to original director Takashi Shimizu – who, after then working on three seperate Grudge films, knows his way around the haunted house and knows how to tap into the atmosphere.

There’s still a sense of unease at the sight of the doomed spirit, her face forever twisted in shock as the death rattle emits around the scene. That – and the usage of Japanese folklore – I can appreciate.

However, I don’t think the cast of characters – main or supporting – are particularly strong and only serve to exist as set dressing for the next spooky setpiece. That’s all well and good if the film has something strong as a backbone, say a plot that drives forward, but there’s not a lot to go on here and passages between said spooky setpieces seem to meander.

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