Rated R; 93 Minutes
Written and Directed by Nicolas Pense; Story by Nicolas Pense and Jeff Buhler; Based upon the original films by Takashi Shimizu
Starring Andrea Riseborough, Lin Shaye, Frankie Faison, John Cho, Betty Gilpin
<<SEE ALSO: KIM’S REVIEW>>
With the 2020 entry, directed by Nicolas Pense, the Ju-On/Grudge series now has 15 entries. And I’ve seen them all in the last few months. Two original short films, The Curse duology (my review), The Grudge duology (my review), three American films, White Ghost/Black Ghost, two in a rebooted series, and a VS flick against Sadako of The Ring. Fifteen films, and three ways to try to get scares.
In a way, it makes sense of the increasingly annoying repetitions of how the films work – the basis of the plot is in repetition. A murderous anger persists in the homes affected, wreaking havoc again and again on whoever goes inside, knows someone who did, or gave the house a weird look. However, I was hoping Pense, who had previously directed the excellent The Eyes of My Mother and Piercing, would breath new life into the franchise, offering a new spin after so many similar entries. Instead, he and co-story-writer Jeff Buhler (writer in some manner of three 2019 films Pet Semetary, Prodigy, Jacob’s Ladder.. Oh shit I should have expected this from him) present “The Greatest Hits of the Grudge”, what we’ve seen before in the exact same way. For the sake of those who haven’t seen it all before and do want to be suprised. I’ll shy away from details but every scene was previous done (many multiple times) in the previous films. If you’ve not seen any previous Grudge/Ju-on films, you may find much more to enjoy. As someone familiar with the series, I couldn’t connect with it.
This version finds a fine mess of character actors working through the familiar plot of a cursed house over the course of a few years – 2004 through 2006 although outside of cell phones looked just like 1995. In 2006 Andrea Riseborough (Mandy, Death of Stalin) and her young son move to a small Pennsylvania town as a new police officer. After a body is discovered in the woods, she is drawn into a strange case of a murder-suicide from 2004. You see, a nurse left a certain home in Japan and brought home a certain curse and a version of the events of that home repeat in her own, creating a new set of Grudge ghosts.
Yes, this isn’t a sequel or remake of the previous Ghosthouse produced films, but within the continuity of the original series. Ultimately, this doesn’t matter except to give a trailer moment of the Kayako (no Toshio, sorry) and a brief mention later.
Anyway, Riseborough visits the cursed home and finds piles of rot and an insane Lin Shaye dipped in enough filth to make John Waters happy and finds herself cursed as well. From here the story expands to look how the curse has affected those nearby.
LIN SHAYE! As I noted in the Room To Rent review, I’ll watch her in anything. Sadly, she’s not in too much of the movie. But no one is really. Pense and Buhler port over one of the things I really like of the originals – several vignettes that make up the whole. They choose to intersperse them as flashbacks in Riseborough’s research into the curse now affecting her. There we see the underused John Cho and Betty Gilpin as a real-estate couple expecting a child and Jackie Weaver arriving later to give care the new owners Lin Shaye and Frankie Faison. Riseborough also attempts to get more information from her partner Demain Bichir (The Nun) who investigated the previous events with Bill Sadler (!!) Each of these compatible performers give their all from what they’re given and I liked seeing them each, even if their characters don’t change a lick. No growth or arcs, just popping in just as soon as you forget they are in the movie.
Having multiple timelines going on at once can be fine, if balanced right. Unfortunately, we lose some of these characters for such long lengths of time, we wonder if they’ll come back or what they’ll contribute the the plot. The largest loss in this manner in this is Cho and Gilpin. Their story could be cut completely. They exist only to repeat some of the original scenes. Others bring up questions that aren’t followed up on.
I wanted more of all of it. It feels like there is more. At 93 minutes, The Grudge feels cut down. But not too far cut; moments here and there. As if Pense delivered a 98 minute film and was told to get it to 93. Scenes come in just out of place, like a transition was cut, or a jump to slightly later in the same scene but could be later in the day. Some ideas are brought up and never followed up on, like the mentioned but not seen FBI being involved in the home or the first investigation or most of Bill Sadler’s part, or the fact that apparently more people have died including some neighbors but that only gets a fleeting mention. A set visit I read about during production mentioned characters reappearing as ghosts that didn’t occur in this cut.
Pense’s two previous films were tight, nasty, and disturbing. I was hoping that would come through. And in many ways they did. The Grudge is nasty. It’s dirty and grimy and has a great sense of decay and rot. But both of those films are allowed to unfold on their own tension, without jump scares and startles.
Unfortunately, there is little tension as Pense builds on the familiar formula of the series and wide-release horror on the whole. So, it’s not terribly surprising The Grudge’s multiple jump scares never work. Pense doesn’t seem to get how they are expected and thus they get tossed into a scene, often inadvertently comical. Those little cuts I mentioned above aren’t just of full scenes, but within; with some jarring edits to try to create a scare or even some tension.
While they don’t work, I’m glad to report the scares are all actual attempt’s no fake jumps. In fact, there is zero humor in the film as well. This is a massive relief. I’d say this helps create more tension rather than deflate it. (looking at you It Chapter 2), but there isn’t any tension to deflate. (Okay, there is one joke and it lands pretty well).
The Grudge is 2020’s first horror film and unfortunately is a misstep. I was hoping for a surprise awesome January flick like Escape Room of last year, and not like the also Shaye starring Insidious 4 of two years ago.
The Grudge ultimately comes out about even. Pense gives a great look, packs the movie with wonderful character actors and brings in the vignette style of the Japanese films. But he doesn’t bring any tension or quality jump scares and just lacks a drive.
I didn’t hate The Grudge, but I didn’t quite care for it either.
Want more: Read Kim’s Review
Watch the Trailer for The Grudge here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oo_c5lu0W0k