Retreading the Same Ground, it’s Time to Bury “The Grudge”

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Going into The Grudge (2020),  I wasn’t really sure what I was seeing. A remake of Takashi Shimizu’s 2002 Ju-on: The Grudge and his 2004 English language version of the same film? Or a re-imagining, as has become so popular these days? Apparently neither. Nicolas Pesce’s take on this franchise is being called a “sidequel.” A film that takes place at the same time as the source material, but with different characters and in a different place. Cool. So basically, I’m about to sit through the same film but in a different neighborhood? Can’t wait.

Listen. I have no beef with remakes, or re-imaginings or whatever you want to call yourself.  Where I sometimes question the necessity of some of them, I’m always game to give them a go with a mostly open mind. I have, on occasion, even enjoyed a remake more than the source material. (The 2018 Suspiria, no one tell Tony Kay.)

And full disclosure, Ju-on has never been my favorite of the J-Horror franchises and I honestly was pretty meh when I heard it was being remade-ish again. The benefit of that is my expectations were remarkably low going into the film. The downside of that is that my expectation were still apparently too high.

Director Nicolas Pesce also wrote the screenplay, and that is not currently working in his favor. The story is treading absolutely zero new ground. If you have nothing new to ad to a story, why are you making a story to begin with? With a cast that includes the likes of Andrea Riseborough (Mandy), Demián Bichir (The Nun), John Cho (Searching) Lin Shaye (just pick a horror film), The Grudge tries really hard, and packs a whole lot of plot into its 90 plus minutes. That’s not a good thing.

A woman returns to her home after a stint in Japan, and quickly murders her husband and child. A few years later, a detective (Riseborough) is pulled into a case involving the home where all of this happens. As she tries to solve her current mystery, she’s pulled into the previous history of the house, and soon, finds herself haunted by the same vengeful ghost that has haunted countless other chapters of this tired and anemic franchise.

It’s actually kind of a mystery as to why Pesce even bothered to make this a “sidequel” and not just reboot or do his own spin the the franchise. Setting it in the mid 2000s felt weird and never fully explained other than to, apparently, tie it somehow to the original films. Beyond a quick reference to an “incident” that happened in Japan at a house, there seems to be no real reason for it. Pesce even goes as far as to recreate a few of the iconic scares, which makes it feel even more off if it’s not a remake or re-imagining. The Grudge also seems to assume that you are familiar with other parts of the franchise because very little is given as to the explanation for why this haunting is happening. I’m not a fan of overly explaining phenomena, but when you have a vengeful ghost, let’s give some sort of context as to why this thing wants to wipe out anyone who makes the mistake of coming into contact with it.

If I have to give The Grudge credit for anything, it’s in its casting. Despite not being given a whole lot of material to work with, the caliber of the acting is good. John Cho is always extremely watchable and Lin Shaye chews her way through plenty of scenery. A lot of the supporting cast is filled with recognizable character and veteran actors who can make a scene interesting even when it’s really not.

As for the directing, Pesce is very fond of having things happening in the background, which is interesting the first time or two it happens, but after awhile becomes overly predictable. There was one nice mirroring shot of a character who is outside and a figure inside, but after a bit everything became exceptionally predictable. The nicest surprise was actually the very end shot that extends into the credits. Without spoiling anything, I found it to be an intriguing use of sound design and an interesting choice.

At the end of the day, all that’s been created is a truly dull and uninspired film. In horror, dull is the kiss of death. Give me bad. Give me corny. Give me Cats. But dull? That’s simply unforgivable. The jump scares are run of the mill, and often drawn out in a weirdly paced way. At one point, I checked my watch waiting for one of the jump scares to happen. That’s not a good sign people.

The Grudge is a movie that frankly, most of us will probably forget we’ve even seen come March, and perhaps that’s for the best. Save your money. If you’re a fan of the original franchise, I would suggest re-watching those films. If not, I suggest watching almost anything else. Cats will honestly give you more creepy moments and a lot more Idris Elba.

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