The Grudge Review
Takashi Shimizu seems to have decided to make a career out of one film - originally made for Japanese television in 2000, Ju-on: The Curse was an instant hit and was quickly followed by a sequel in the same year. In 2003 he revisited both stories for theatrical releases of each film, slightly retitled to Ju-on: The Grudge, with improved production values resulting in a much more accomplished film. After quickly gaining a reputation for being one of the scariest films to come out of the Far East in the latest Ringu-inspired surge of psychological horror films, Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead, Spider-Man) decided to bring the story to mainstream Hollywood by producing yet another remake, again directed by Takashi Shimizu.
The Grudge is, as you'd expect, a pretty faithful remake of the Japanese film - but the change in production values and the Americanised cast mean that the result is little more than an basic imitation. Without the language barrier, the film immediately loses something that made it seem a little more ethereal. Instead it feels far too glossy and while it replicates the jumps present in the original film fairly well it just doesn't really hit the right buttons. Still set in Japan, The Grudge sees some of the key roles taken by American actors, with the Japanese actors largely making up the supporting cast. A post-Buffy Sarah Michelle Gellar fills headlines as Karen, an American exchange student who also works as a part time carer. After another carer disappears while working, Karen is asked to fill in and look after Emma (Grace Zabriskie), another American living in Japan. On arriving at her house, Karen finds the missing carers bicycle chained up outside and discovers Emma in a catatonic state.
There are a number of other familiar faces making up the rest of the cast - Emma's daughter, Jennifer is played by Clea DuVall (Final Destination), Jennifer's husband is played by William Mapother (Lost) and Bill Pullman also makes a few fleeting appearances.
In its favour, the complicated structure of the film does make more sense this time around - largely because without having to concentrate on the language the viewer can spend a little more time watching the film - but again this takes yet another 'alien' element away making the American film little more than a Ring wannabe. There's a little too much reliance on making the audience jump rather than creating a truly coherent plot - there are too many questions raised by the film which are then not answered as it seems the director is more interested in scares rather than story.
The American performances are solid, but lack any kind of edge. We're used to seeing Gellar kicking undead arse as Buffy, and she doesn't really make for a believable victim. Pullman appears to be on autopilot for his brief appearances in the film while KaDee Strickland, Clea DuVall and Jason Behr are pretty anonymous and their roles could be played by almost anyone. The Japanese cast probably hold a little more interest - mainly because they don't have the baggage that the familiar American faces bring to the party. Ryo Ishibashi (Audition) plays the main Japanese role of a Japanese police officer while Takako Fuji and Yuya Ozeki are the only familiar faces from the Japanese films as the very spooky Kayako and Toshio.
Shimizu's direction will be familiar to viewers of his previous Ju-on films - he's not really made a lot of progress here, preferring to go for what is almost a scene-by-scene remake with some tweaks to account for the Western cast rather than pushing himself to come up with something a little different. Thankfully there are no major pointless additions to the story (I'm looking at you, The Ring) so there's really no need for him to do anything more than go through the motions. There is a slightly different feel to the film than you'd get from a purely American production, and this is definitely refreshing, but we really end up with something that sits a little uneasily between two very different cultures.
The Grudge is presented, as you would expect, in the correct 1.85:1 aspect ratio and is anamorphically enhanced. However, it's a very disappointing transfer being both murky and grainy. There is a distinct lack of detail in some shots due to the amount of grain and this is somewhat surprising given the relatively high bit rate the picture has been encoded at.
Shadow detail is variable (sometimes reasonable, sometimes poor) and the colours are muted - issues such as the grain can be attributed to the original master, but the lack of detail isn't something I remember seeing in the theatrical release.
As with action films, horror films often benefit from the additional atmosphere provided by a good DTS soundtrack, so it's a great shame that Universal haven't bothered to include one on this release. Instead we get a functional Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that makes reasonable use of the surround speakers to create ambience and throw in a few jumps for the viewer.
The soundtrack isn't as great a disappointment as the picture quality, but it's not really one that'll create any excitement.
The extras for the Region 2 release of The Grudge appear to match the Region 1 release, but that's not really saying much - we're limited to a cast and crew commentary, a 48 minute documentary and a short featurette - so have Universal gone for quality over quantity?
Featuring a diverse range of members of the American side of the cast and crew, the commentary mainly lacks any input from the film's director - whether this was due to the potential language barrier or other reasons is unknown. Thankfully, those that do take part are jovial and this makes for an entertaining, if somewhat superficial, discussion of the film, the cast and crews experiences of filming in Japan and the cultural differences between themselves and the Japanese participants.
Featuring contributions from producers Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, stars Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr, Clea DuVall, Ted Raimi and KaDee Strickland and screenwriter Stephen Susco, the commentary can at times feel a little crowded with more than one person trying to say something at once, so it may have been beneficial to have split the participants and provided two tracks instead of just one. But that said, the relatively short running time of the film means that there's little time for the commentary to slow down and it's particularly interesting to hear how the cast adapted to the Japanese customs and culture. Worth a listen.
A Powerful Rage: Behind The Grudge (48 minutes)
A Powerful Rage: Behind The Grudge is a surprisingly substantial behind-the-scenes look at the development of the film featuring the usual clips, making-of footage and talking head interviews that we've become accustomed to. Thankfully, Shimizu takes part in these interviews so this goes a little way to making up for his absence on the commentary.
Under the Skin (12 minutes)
A pretty dry look at horror in general and the ways filmmakers try to scare their audience. It's a very academic piece and is unlikely to hold anyone's interest for the short 12 minute running time.
The disc doesn't feature any deleted scenes - something which is made more disappointing given the commentary features discussion at times regarding scenes that were changed and cut from the first cut and it would have been good to see some of these in the flesh.
All of the extras feature subtitles.
The Region 2 DVD of The Grudge is an all-round disappointment. Fans of Ju-on will almost certainly prefer the original Japanese theatrical film without the associated glossiness of the American production, while newcomers are unlikely to be won over by the films complicated method of telling the story and apparent over-reliance on 'jump moments'. Likewise, the DVD release isn't anything to get excited over - disappointing video, unremarkable sound and a couple of worthwhile extras do not make an essential purchase.