During the endless cycles the horror genre seems to go through we’ve had quite the few subcategories pop up over that past 20 years or so and one that got a particular bit of traction was the J-Horror remake trend. Deeming that American cinema goers shouldn’t have to debase themselves by actually read subtitles, studios got into a rush to adapt any creepy Japanese horror film they could from Ringu to Dark Water and everything else besides with varied results but years later – adeptly proving the old saying that pop culture will eat itself – we now get our first J-Horror remake of a remake.
Are we feeling old yet?
Thank Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, the director and producer team, who gave us the stunningly original Evil Dead back in ’81 but who now primarily drip feed us remakes of classics we never asked for.
Set over three time periods – 2004, 2005 and 2006 respectively this “new” Grudge branches off from the 2004 sequel/reboot as a live-in nurse has a brush with a corrupted building that houses the malevolent spirit of Kayako Saeki. Heading back to America it seems she’s brought with her something a fair bit more damaging than undeclared foodstuffs as she carries Saeki’s curse with her that has devastating effects on anyone who sets foot in her house. From here on in we bounce – anthology style – back and forth between various groups afflicted by the virus-like hauntings like a realtor and his wife who are expecting their first child, an elderly couple who are planning assisted suicide and the representative who comes to monitor them and the single parent mother who has transferred to the police department in the area. Soon enough, these hapless, disparate groups of people, all separated by 3 years but intrinsically linked by entering this marked house all start having bloody visions of the dead members of a family who stalk them without mercy with endless and repetitive jump scares and constantly wander around, out of focus in the rear of shots in an attempt to create a sense of unease…
I’m truly curious to know who out there – if anyone – was actually chomping at the bit for another Grudge movie – because it certainly wasn’t me. Oh sure, the 2004 version brought the scares thick and fast along with some truly jarring jump scares (the face in the bed legitimately twisted me up) but it wasn’t what you’d call highly memorable despite it’s further two sequels so this late-in-the-day resurgence baffles me somewhat.
Swapping out the classic J-Horror trope of your vengeful ghost dressed in white and rocking the raven hair, porcelain complexion and panda eyes of an insomniac goth proves to be somewhat of a mistake as the more standard “bloody zombie” look used here ends up stripping a fair bit of stylistic flare from proceedings and proves to be not that especially memorable. It’s also confusing that they would scrap such a well known image from the originals but still keep the gurgling croak the ghosts emit, not to mention possibly the “original’s” most nightmarish image of a showering character finding dead, gnarled fingers growing out of their scalp.
The cast is actually pretty accomplished considering the hackneyed material with Andrea Riseborough employing those dinner plate sized eyes of hers to infuse her character with a raw, broken bird sense of vulnerability – much like she did in 2018’s mental-fest Mandy – but to not much avail. Joining her are a variety of character actors including John Chu (Star Trek), Betty Gilpin (GLOW) William Sadler (Die Hard 2) and, of course, the game-for-anything Lin Shaye of Insidious fame who actually scores the best jump scare out of the whole movie.
The film manages to chuck the occasional truly startling image at you like the Mason Verger from Hannibal style aftermath of a self inflicted gunshot wound, or a character absent mindedly chopping their fingers to pieces while preparing a meal but the majority of the film is taken up with a relentless number of cheap shocks with only about a quarter of them landing. Lets put it this way, if you had a comedy that had the same hit-rate percentage of jokes, it would be awful… I’m just sayin’…
Writer/director Nicholas Pesce makes a wild swipe at pathos as every group who fall foul of the curse is suffering some traumatic incident, be it the deterioration of an elderly wife, the realisation of a first time couple that their unborn baby may have ALD or the grief of losing a husband to cancer but instead of adding an extra demention to the scares it just makes everything flat and depressing as the film plods through it’s trio of time zones.
It’s also the most conclusive proof to date that Sam Raimi should stop producing so-so remakes and flatly decent creature features like last year’s Crawl and get his butt back into the director’s chair where he belongs and give us something as crazy and entertaining as another Evil Dead movie of something like Drag Me To Hell (which shares many surface similarities to The Grudge).
Derivative and somewhat of an unnecessary downer, The Grudge is an unwanted return to a forgotten franchise that’s best left moldering in the bath tub from where it came from and you’ll bare a grudge alright, but only for the filmmakers…