In 2002, the Japanese horror film Ju-On: The Grudge was a surprise hit all over the world and audiences everywhere were terrified out of their wits by Sayako, Toshio and their cat and the vengeful curse that infected people who stepped foot in her house where a terrible tragedy once occurred. The film sparked several sequels and an American remake in 2004 starring Sarah Michelle Gellar with a sequel of its own and now writer-director Nicolas Pesce brings us another film for the canon. It’s neither a direct sequel or a reboot, but more of a continuation of the story of a terrible curse.
The film begins when an American woman, Fiona leaves a house in Japan to return to her family in the States. Unknowingly she brings a curse with her, which haunts not just Fiona and her doomed family, but several other people over the years. Detective Muldoon, a recently widowed mother of a young boy, begins to investigate Fiona’s house which seems to be the location for several tragedies and soon Muldoon begins to experience vivid hallucinations. Is there a way to break the curse?
You have to admire Pesce’s commitment to the franchise; The Grudge is full of little nods and easter eggs for the fans to spot and it’s clearly full of love for the entire franchise. The action moves from Japan to USA here and while it seems like a very commercial decision, it moves the franchise along and opens up new possibilities.
Pesce admirably tries to make his film about more than just the titular grudge or the ghosts. He focuses on the human side of the hauntings and explores the often mundane reality of tragedy and not all the horrors here involve ghosts. It’s almost as if these characters were already somehow cursed by the hardships they are experiencing and the curse only amplifies this. It’s an impressive and admirable approach to such a familiar narrative
Too bad most of the film is a bit of a slog. Pesce is an incredibly talented director who has already impressed with his two previous features, The Eyes of My Mother and Piercing and he has a knack for scary imagery and good scares. While The Grudge returns to the original format of non-linear structure and overlapping stories, they all feel too disconnected without a satisfying conclusion. Also, too little happens in the middle to keep the audience focused and scared.
When the scares come, they are excellent. Pesce is able to craft impeccable jump scares and while we often dismiss jump scares as cheap, when done right, they are incredibly effective and keep things interesting. Pesce utilises his scares well, but is a little too conservative with them and this simply needs more of them as well as some of the disturbing imagery Pesce clearly is great at producing. The film’s last third is genuinely scary but it’s too little too late, because the audience is pretty checked out by this time.
The cast of The Grudge is top notch. Andrea Riseborough as Detective Muldoon is compelling and easy to root for and while John Cho and Betty Gilpin are dealt the worst hand in the terms of story, they have great chemistry and Cho continues to be impressive in everything he does. Lin Shaye, a horror queen if there ever was one, bring surprising tragedy and unhinged madness to the otherwise stale narrative. It’s a shame all these performances and characters feel totally expendable as the narrative keeps jumping between timelines. None of the characters really register despite the great actors and there’s nothing to ground and anchor the narrative, to make the audience care about these poor buggers about to be devoured by this curse.
The Grudge won’t be the worst horror you’ll see all year, but it’s messy structure and lagging narrative aren’t enough to make this a memorable entry into such an influential and famous horror franchise. There are good scares here, but the overall mood isn’t enough to terrify the audience or have enough to say about the world the characters live in.
Dir: Nicolas Pesce
Scr: Nicolas Pesce
Cast: Andrea Riseborough, John Cho, Demián Bichir, Zoe Fish
Prd: Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, Takashige Ichise
DOP: Zack Galler
Music: The Newton Brothers
Country: USA / Canada
Run time: 94 minutes
The Grudge is available digitally from May 18th and on DVD and Blu Ray June 1st.