Sunday, October 31, 2004

Movie Review: The Grudge

Japan/United States, 2004
U.S. Release Date: 10/22/04 (wide)
Running Time: 1:36
Rated: PG-13 (Horror, violence)
Cast: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr, Clea DuVall, William Mapother, KaDee Strickland, Bill Pullman, Grace Zabriskie

Director: Takashi Shimizu
Producers: Sam Raimi, Doug Davison, Roy Lee, Robert G. Tapert, Taka Ichise
Screenplay: Stephen Susco, based on "Ju-On: The Grudge" by Takashi Shimizu
Music: Christopher Young
Studio: Columbia Pictures

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Considering the success of 2002’s The Ring (based on the Japanese film Ringu), Japanese horror appears to be the latest fad making itself into American theatres. Currently, Hollywood producers are scrambling to purchase the remake rights to the best horror flicks the Japanese have to offer; The Ring 2 (based on Ringu 2) hits America later this year, and a sequel to The Grudge (which is based on Japan’s Ju-On) is already in the works for English-speaking audiences to enjoy.

Even though I do not consider myself to be a huge fan of the Japanese horror genre (called “J-horror” by the true fanatics), I did happen to enjoy The Ring. Sadly, I cannot say the same for The Grudge. While The Grudge does have the ability to install some nightmarish images in your mind, it really only serves as a force to conjoin loved ones in a series of protective embraces from the freaky frights the film provides.

Karen Davis (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is an American student who is studying abroad in Tokyo with her boyfriend (Jason Behr). There, in addition to her studies, Karen is involved with in-home care for the elderly. Once Yoko (Yoko Maki) - a fellow caregiver and friend of Karen’s - turns up missing, Karen is assigned to assist in giving care to an elderly woman (Grace Zabriskie) in Yoko’s absence. However, what Karen doesn’t know is that Yoko has fallen victim to the woman’s cursed house. Karen soon comes to understand that the house she is in is cursed and that whoever enters its walls winds up dead. Karen must solve the ways of “the grudge” before she ends up being the next to witness the house’s haunting inhabitants.

Besides the relatively frightening sequences that The Grudge offers, the rest of the film is pretty much a drag to sit through—with Sarah Michelle Gellar leading the way. Gellar, who apparently just crawled out of the WB dudgeon where it seemed as though she had been stored for more than four years, finally puts up an on-screen role that isn’t in a Scooby-Doo movie. Her role as Karen is undemanding and pretty disappointing; mostly, Gellar just walks around and looks at scary things. Another stranger to the silver screen, making what seems to be his first film appearance since Independence Day, is Bill Pullman. Just like Drew Barrymore in Scream, Pullman's character dies before the opening credits even come up, and yet he is recognized as one of the film’s stars.

From its Japanese influence, The Grudge does invoke a new flavor, but with an American (Stephen Susco) adapting the screenplay, it takes on the intuition of a Hollywood horror. Just as in most horror films, The Grudge’s music helps to heighten the suspense even more than what the footage itself could provide, and the characters are conventional—going where they shouldn’t to investigate a strange noise in the attic. Speaking of the attic: why is it that the terror always has to come from a non-ground-level floor? Everything is always in the attic, under the stairs, or in the basement; it’s never, say, from the dining room or the foyer.

To avoid this type of Hollywood influence, Takashi Shimizu takes the reigns as director. When taking into account that Shimizu happens to be the same writer/director of the Japanese original (Ju-On), one could easily assume that some of Shimizu’s initial innovation may have been lost in translation. (Note: With all of Shimizu’s shots of downtown Tokyo, at times, The Grudge gives off a little Lost in Translation feel.) In fact, with the lackluster cast Shimizu had to work with, I am surprised he was able to show snippets of his vision. With that said, Shimizu tries to make up for his inferior cast by giving the audience their money’s worth in the form of stringy hair, wide-open mouths, and unsettling eyes.

Truthfully, that is how simply one can sum up the scares in The Grudge. The film’s most disturbing scenes are of a pale-faced, young, Japanese woman who happens to have a lot of the white portions of her eyeballs visible. The Grudge also tries to alarm with a creepy kid who meows out of his gaping mouth; however, this “kitty boy” doesn’t quite carry the capability of scaring you out of your skin.

Mainly, The Grudge’s terror doesn’t work by trying to get you to jump out of your seat. Instead, The Grudge operates on frights that make you squirm. Once the film gets eerie – and maintains its intensity – from time to time, you may find yourself having to make sure that both nothing can grab your legs out from under you and that the young woman sitting next to you isn’t the aforementioned Asian.

Is The Grudge scary? Yes. Is it one of the scariest movies ever made? No. In fact, without The Grudge’s spine-chilling sounds that swell up at the perfect moment – predictably right before something starling appears – The Grudge really only offers two scary sclerae. In this case, the chilling eyes work, but overall, the movie doesn’t. The Grudge is one movie that will have you turning away from the screen—not just to save yourself from the scares, but also to check the time to see how much longer you have to sit. (** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2004