Whenever someone dies in a powerful grip of rage, a curse is left behind and haunts the area and whoever comes across it. So says "The Grudge," anyway, the latest American remake of a stylish substance-free Japanese horror film starring paper plate actress Sarah Michelle Gellar, as Karen, an American homecare nurse living in Tokyo with her boyfriend, Doug (Jason Behr).
The first thing that came to my mind, and maybe this is because I'm such a horrible, horrible person, is that if it's true that when someone dies in a state of rage or panic or whatever, a curse is left behind -- especially in Japan of all places -- you'd think our dropping of two nuclear bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki would have left a lot of house attics with uninvited long-haired guests, staggering back and forth and making a lot of clicking noises.
End of digression.
"The Grudge" is Takashi Shimizu's immediate remake of his original 2004 Japanese version, "Ju-On," unseen by me but very similar according to my trusted critics. I have read about culture differences and how American influences don't make good Japanese horror films. But that's all beating around the bush. Bad concepts don't make good Japanese horror films.
Karen has been assigned to take care of an elderly woman named Emma (Grace Zabriskie) currently occupying the cursed the house while her son, Matthew (William Mapother), and his wife, Jennifer (Clea DuVall) are at work during the day. Emma serves the important purpose of being that character who doesn't talk due to her medical condition, but stares in absolute horror at the ceiling until whoever is with her figures out that a ghost is hovering above. It usually takes a long time before someone notices the ghost and as a result - many corpses begin piling up in a house that for some reason does not have a reputation for killing its many inhabitants.
This is a standard, formulaic story in that a house is haunted, characters look disturbed only because there's an eerie soundtrack playing in the background. and everything happens at night. Many characters go into the house, not so many come out.
It's not that I'm against standard ghost flicks. I thoroughly enjoyed "The Ring" and anticipate the sequel. But that movie (if not the plot) had a logical, linear sequence. "The Grudge" gets stuck in a circular loop plagued by a pattern that utilizes flashbacks too complicated for its own good. A scene would start, a ghost would appear, a character would either live or die, and then it starts all over again without advancing the story. Maybe because there is no story, but still, not a reason to stall and tempt our patience.
To further explain, at about the midway point a ghost stalks every member of a particular family, and in some of these cases the movie is effective at being scary. Take for example the scene where we see the ghost materialize through the floor on security camera footage, and the time when she disguises herself as an already dead character to enter a building and seconds later ring the doorbell of an occupant several floors up. Then she appears from underneath someone's bed sheets and the audience gets a kick out of it. But then she does it again, and again, and again…all while Karen explores the mystery of the killing-house and meets with a detective (Ryo Ishibashi) who may or may not have something to tell us later on about the history of the house.
Sarah Michelle Gellar is no stranger to horror movies, but not even her long tenure on "Buffy" has given her enough convincible feature-length credibility to hold a major role in this genre. I enjoyed her more when she got tossed off the second-story balcony of the sorority house in "Scream 2," and when she got sliced up like a fish in "I Know What You Did Last Summer." No such luck in this film where she actually survives at least until the end. (Not a spoiler.)
The movie concludes with one of those non-resolute endings that begs for speculation at the drinking table…that is, considering the conversation isn't about how disappointing the movie is. Not just disappointing, but boring…and movies with raging ghosts should never be boring. But Shimizu pulls it off so well that at times a ghost would appear in a mirror or a shadow would fly across the frame and the theater audience wouldn't react, having seen the thing so many times in previous scenes.
"The Grudge" is a film you should wait to rent if you want to see it all, but fortunate for horror buffs the slate of upcoming releases is stocked with potentially good movies. Next week brings us the graphically disturbing "Saw," and in the near future we look forward to "White Noise," "The Boogeyman" and -- god help us -- "Seed of Chucky."
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