*/**** Image B Sound A- Extras A-
starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr, KaDee Strickland, Clea DuVall
screenplay by Stephen Susco, based on a screenplay by Takashi Shimizu
directed by Takashi Shimizu
by Walter Chaw Fans of Takashi Shimizu's Japanese horror franchise Ju-On, rest assured that his English-language but still Tokyo-set version of The Grudge is laudably faithful to the source material. So faithful, in fact, that The Grudge is completely free of those tedious drags character development, tension, scenario, narrative, plot, intelligence, point, sociological relevance, technical aptitude, and scares, really, since it leaves "pacing" somewhere back where the rest of that stuff was jettisoned. What The Grudge has a lot of, though, are "jump scares," the cats-through-windows thing where somebody crawls around in an attic with a lighter because they've heard an ominous knocking and then a face appears in the gloom accompanied by a sting note on the soundtrack.
It doesn't take any wit to surprise people--it would tax my imagination not one bit to run up to someone in the dark and scream in his or her ear, but movies like this convince folks that such is a pastime worthy of shelling out a few dollars to see. The Grudge is the equivalent of riding a roller-coaster for ninety minutes: a continuous loop of rises and falls and cheap thrills that long about the thirty-minute mark becomes a complete and total endurance test. With one sort of neat exception, you can't even compliment the gore effects--it's a PG-13 rated tease that works as a fairly depressing barometer of where our youth is nowadays if this is the sort of garbage they find entertaining or frightening. I'm not saying it's not scary; I'm saying that it's scary because it lends some insight into how the audience for horror films has devolved at the same rate as the audience for all cinema.
If there's a main character in this string of four or five separate, atemporal plots about what happens to people when they go into one grudge-haunted house (they should put in a turnstile where the front door is--I don't think I've had this many people visit my home in ten years), it might be Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar, sating "Buffy" fans only in karate-kicking over a gasoline can). An indigent-care provider, Karen visits the home of poor, demented shut-in Emma (Grace Zabriskie) and discovers that the house is haunted by a little-boy ghost that mews like his black cat. Not scary. Karen has a boyfriend Doug (Jason "Roswell" Behr) who's some kind of somnambulant architecture student--still not scary. Together, they discover that because something terrible has happened in Emma's house, any trespassers will also have something terrible happen to them. Again, not scary. The Grudge proceeds to slip backwards and forwards through time, essaying the murky fate of college professor Bill Pullman with the same casual lack of focus as greets the fate of some anonymous Japanese family, some anonymous other-white-girl (KaDee Strickland), and then, finally, some anonymous detectives.
The Grudge poses preposterous situations and then demands that its characters do the stupidest things possible to extricate themselves. Not content to have folks make a mad dash for the attic when they hear evil noises coming from that very place (or reach into bloody bathtubs), the film actually has a scene where a woman fleeing a bogey dives under her covers and pulls them up to her ears. Why not just have her put her hands over her eyes and stand stock-still? So not only do we have no investment in the undeveloped characters, we have no sympathy for them, either. It's almost nihilistic, the coarse way that The Grudge treats its phantoms--it's this weird engine, the sole purpose of which is to chew up its human representations almost as quickly as it introduces them. The only thing this Western variation on the inexplicably popular kaidan eiga series adds is a disturbing undercurrent of anti-cultural imperialism on the one side and Yellow Peril on the other, what with its parade of Aryan victims falling prey to an evil Japanese woman just a little too in love with the (literal) influence of the corrupting West. Originally published: October 22, 2004.
by Bill Chambers Michael Gillis bests the main event on Sony's DVD release of The Grudge with a far more entertaining, if ultimately conventional, account of the film's production, the 5-part, 48-minute "A Powerful Rage: Behind The Grudge". Divided into chapters whose headings--"The Birth of The Grudge," "Myth of Ju-On," "Culture Shock: The American Cast in Japan," "Designing The Grudge House," "A New Direction: Understanding Takashi Shimizu"--only loosely apply to the content being indexed, the piece is primarily concerned with the east-meets-west dynamic between the more or less all-American cast and the more or less all-Japanese crew. Actor Bill Pullman trenchantly observes that the Japanese custom of sitting on the floor goes some way towards explaining why theirs is a nation steeped in folklore, lending itself as it does to the tradition of oral storytelling, while a shot of empty shoes at the entrance to the set provides pithy summary of the Hollywood talent having to check their egos at the door.
The fiendishly cute Yoko Maki (who plays the first victim of 'the grudge') says a few things in Japanese that sounded an awful lot like a mating song to these ears, though I should point out that her interview segments are subtitled, likewise those of "Shimizu-san" (a complete dork we'd be comparing to Uwe Boll right now but for the grace of Buddha) and production designer Iwao Saito (confessing to building a larger house than you'd find in suburban Tokyo so as not to turn off U.S. audiences). Gillis additionally oversaw "Under the Skin with Joseph LeDoux, Ph.D" (12 mins.), an overqualified survey of what makes (successful) horror movies tick courtesy the author of The Emotional Brain and Synaptic Self. Though LeDoux doesn't tie any of his comments directly to The Grudge (heavily excerpted throughout), the one specific title he does cite, William Castle's The Tingler, is conveniently available on the same label as this DVD.
A group commentary supplements the feature proper, with several party-hearty participants--including producers Rob Talpert and Sam Raimi, actors Sarah Michelle Gellar, Clea DuVall, Jason Behr, and Ted Raimi, and screenwriter Stephen Susco--communicating half-telepathically to our chagrin. Also accompanying the film is a somewhat lacklustre Dolby Digital 5.1 track, which has moments of authority but seems to have been predicated on Roger Corman's axiom that a conscientious soundmix is wasted on all but the first and final reels. The 1.81:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is similarly drab, and though I believe Shimizu has that to answer for, the on-again/off-again edge-enhancement is nobody's fault but the studio's. (The source print is also shockingly scuffed-up during a hospital interlude.) Previews for The Grudge, The Forgotten, Guess Who, Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid, Boogeyman, Riding Giants, Spider-Man 2, Man of the House, and Mirrormask round out the disc; the spots for Guess Who, Boogeyman, and The Forgotten join the trailer for Hitch in a block preceding the main menu. A shiny cardboard cover, evidently the new trend, slips over the keepcase. Originally published: February 1, 2005.