The Grudge Review
“When someone dies in the grip of a powerful rage, a curse is born."
Karen is an American student living in Japan with her boyfriend who spends her days studying to be a social worker and temping as a care giver for homebound patients. After one of her coworkers disappears while caring for a patient, Karen is handed the assignment and asked to pay a visit to the home. When she enters the house she finds a nearly catatonic woman (Emma) lying on the floor in soiled sheets surrounded by trash and rotting food. Emma shares the home with her son and daughter-in-law, but they are nowhere to be found. As Karen sets about tending to the woman, she makes a startling discovery when she finds a bizarre young boy (Toshio) seemingly trapped in a closet that is taped-shut. She tries to question him but doesn't make much headway and it's here the film begins the first of several timeline manipulations (different storylines are told through flashbacks that then merge with present day making Karen an interactive participant in the past).
The first flashback deals with Emma's missing son and daughter-in-law who are seen buying a house so they can care for a mentally-unstable Emma - unfortunately they make the fatal mistake of buying that particular house. Desperate to find out what is happening around her, Karen begins investigating multiple murders and disappearances that all have some connection to the house and its occupants. With the help of a local Detective and another flashback she discovers the house was the scene of a double murder/suicide at the hands of a jealous husband and from that evil act a curse of rage (the grudge) was born. That rage (in the form of ghostly mom and son team Kayako and Toshio) resides in the house and infects anyone it comes into contact with spreading like a virus and Karen is its next potential victim.
The Grudge is the fifth entry in Takashi Shimizu's immensely popular Japanese horror film franchise Ju-on. The first two installments of Ju-on were V-cinema releases that he followed up with feature films. Spider-Man director Sam Raimi was so impressed with the series that he persuaded an initially-reluctant Shimizu to remake his own film for Western audiences. Stephen Susco (Mr. October) was brought onboard to write an English language screenplay from Shimizu's original script with Raimi himself as executive producer. Despite all the attention he was receiving from the States, Shimizu was adamant about filming in Japan. Sets from the original were recreated in Tokyo's Toho Studios and translators were employed to help the American actors and Japanese director (who speaks very little english) understand each other.
The ensemble cast is a mixed bag of familiar faces from the original (Takako Fuji and Yuya Ozeki reprise their roles of Kayako and young Toshio), high profile American stars Sarah Michelle Gellar and Bill Pullman, supporting players Jason Behr, Clea DuVall and Grace Zabriskie and KaDee Strickland and a fine performance from Ryo Ishibashi (Audition) as a detective. Gellar does a decent enough job, though after years of watching her ass-kicking Buffy, it's a bit hard to accept her in the role of a victim. But it's Ozeki and Fuji who give the standout performances. Fuji in particular has perfected Kayako's freakishly disjointed crawl and no matter how many times I see Toshio, the meowing little boy still creeps me out.
From the film's stunning opening moments (involving Pullman), you know The Grudge is not going to be your average ghost story. In addition to its non-linear storytelling, the curse and its heralding wraiths don't play by conventional ghostly rules. They are able to wreak havoc outside of the house, they can't be appeased and as was the case with The Ring, discovering the source of the curse doesn't necessarily guarantee an end to the evil. By utilising the same director, sets and two of the principal actors from the original, the film emerges as a fairly faithful shot-for-shot remake, though it does borrow plot ideas from at least one other Ju-on installment and the ending has been changed. Despite a bigger budget, the minimalist eerie imagery of the original is left intact and keeping the story based in Japan with American leads makes for an interesting subplot when Karen suffers cultural alienation as she struggles to fit in with her new surroundings. The film has its share of creepiness (Kayako's otherworldly groaning) and great jump-in-your seat moments (one involving a ghostly image on video footage; another chilling scene that has Kayako stalking Emma's daughter Susan on a stairwell and the climatic encounter with Karen), but when all is said and done, it pales in comparison to the original, which though flawed and uneven is still superior to most Western haunted house stories