Directed by Shimizu Takashi, 2004, 91 min. starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr, KaDee Strickland, William Mapother, Grace Zabriskie, with Clea DuVall, and Bill Pullman.
Takashi Shimizu is one smart guy. Crossing over into the US film market has been a dream of a lot of directors outside the US, and here's one guy who just seemed to get right into the thick of things. Sure he had the help and trust of a major filmmaker/producer in the guise of Sam Raimi, but sometimes something like that, especially in the hugely commercial world of American films, is not enough to break through. You have to have an ace up your sleeve. Well, Shimizu had that ace.
The result of course is the much-awaited US version of his "saga" - the multi-versioned, seemingly endless, and cleverly executed (in some incarnations, at least) haunted house fable that is Ju-on. But what began as an interesting look at a tried and tested horror movie gimmick has now turned into one of the biggest cash cows in cinema, to the point where the mere mention of yet another Ju-on movie would send bile up certain people's throats. The endless ventures into this fable has lost all sense of credibility for its creator/director that now, people simply view him as a hack who will probably have no cinematic life beyond these films.
Well, I'm not here to discuss the uncertain filmmaking future of Mr. Shimizu. Here is where I delve into the latest incarnation of this unending saga.
The Grudge is constructed out of the same tools as almost all of the rest of the Ju-on films. In fact, it feels sort of like Frankenstein's monster, pieced together from all different versions of the films and stitched together with the glossy thread that is Hollywood . And with a box-office gross of over $100, they must have done something right. But, as with all remakes, comparisons to the originals are inevitable, with fans looking at all versions and arbitrarily deciding that one sequence was better in one particular version as opposed to another.
But what it all boils down to is the most basic question of all: Is it a good movie? That depends on what frame of mind one has upon seeing this - as even those who see it prior to any previous version might not even like it, mainly because they don't dig the story. Too simple, too predictable, not too much slash 'n flash going on. And if I'm being honest - all that is true. It's what you see beyond those things that matter. That is, if you're willing to look.
It is modern-day Japan . An American man commits suicide seemingly for no apparent reason. He jumps from his apartment balcony while his wife watches helplessly.
Jumping to another time frame, young Japanese volunteer social worker Yoko (could they try to pick a less common Japanese name?) visits an American household to look after an Emma, an old American woman with mental health problems. Once there, she hears weird noises coming from the ceiling – she investigates, and encounters something horrific and evil lurking in the attic.
Meanwhile, a young American girl, Karen, and her hunky boyfriend, Doug, get ready for their day ahead. They are both exchange students of some sort. Karen heads on over to a care centre as part of her curriculum and gets word that she is to go and make a visit to the same old lady that Yoko had been seeing, until she failed to show up for work that morning. Karen heads over to the house and immediately feels uneasy – there's something wrong. She finds the home in disarray, and tends to the old woman. While there, she finds a closet door taped shut and hears scratching from behind it. She opens it and discovers a young boy with bruises all over his body. She calls this in to the care center. She asks the child what his name was, to which he replies "Toshio". Karen repeats "Toe-shee-yoe" - she is American after all. Meanwhile, the old woman is apparently having an argument with someone in her head – certainly there's no-one else visible in the house. While Karen attempts to subdue her, a strange entity descends on them from the ceiling, causing both to fall rapidly unconscious.
In yet another time frame (the third so far, but at least in this Shimizu is sticking with the structure we've seen in his earlier pictures) we see an American family look at and move into a Japanese home. Husband Matthew, wife Jen, Matthew's mother Emma and his sister Susan, who herself lives separately but still in Tokyo ). Initially, all's well and they feel comfortable there, although Emma feels uneasy about the upstairs area. Matthew goes to work, leaving Jen to look after Emma, who's mentally quite unstable. After work one day, after Jen has had a run-in with Toshio abd his cat, Matthew finds his wife semi-conscious in bed, and soon sees for himself why.
Meanwhile, back in the Karen time frame, Alex, the head of the care agency, decides to drop by the house to check up on things and finds Emma dead and Karen in a catatonic state. The police are summoned, including Detective Nakagawa, whom we will later find out has a bit of knowledge about the history of the house.
Later on, we see Susan leave a message on his brother's answering machine while she heads on home. But while still at the office, she gets a haunting of her own, which freaks her out, prodding her to go running to her apartment, terrified. But even there, she is not safe from the horrors that await her.
As Karen wakes up, she is questioned by Nakagawa about what happened at that house, who also tells her of the terrible events that happened in the house three years previously. Once she's out of the hospital, Karen plays detective and digs up all she can about the house, including an American teacher somehow related to the events. The deeper she digs, the more she finds out about an obsession that led to the curse that has somehow consumed them all. And it is only a matter of time before they all meet their ends unless Karen (or anyone) finds a way to prevent their demise…
So, final say time. Looking at the movie from a film-goer's perspective, I'd say the film did what it was supposed to do - introduce a new way to tell the whole haunted house story. Shimizu takes the comfort out of "once you're out of the haunted house you're safe" and makes you believe that nowhere is safe. The only difference here from the earlier iterations of the story is that the curse of the Ju-on has been simplified. You only have to have entered the house to be consumed by its fury. However, what worked so well in the original curse concept is that the curse became a sort of virus that spread from person to person regardless of first-hand contact with the evil. I liked the idea that no one was innocent or spared from the wrath of these victims. That's what makes the original Ju-on concept work.
But here, we see it thinned down, simplified. As a result, you know who lives and who dies. There's no sense of foreboding, no unexpected plot twists, no connecting this victim to the house via "six-degrees-of-separation" type of connection. It's just there. You don't have to think. It's a no-brainer.
As for the film itself, well, a lot has to be said. Though technically smoother than some of the other versions, you're pretty much seeing a lot of what's already been done before. There are a few tweaks here and there but it's all essentially the same. Christopher Young's score seems obtrusive at times, warning you of imminent scares, trying to move you on when there's nothing much happening on screen, and still managing to intrude on whatever on-screen action there is. The effects (however few there are) seem cheesy - especially on the DVD, where the scary hair looks more like squirmy worms to me. The editing of the horror sequences, at least some of them, are good, and the film moves at a steady pace. The performances from all actors are credible, and Ryo Ishibashi frankly shows why he's such a massive star in Japan with a superlative, downbeat and sensitive portrayal of the detective Nakagawa.
There's one exception though. Now, as anyone who knows me would attest, I have absolutely nothing against Sarah Michelle Gellar. In fact I kinda like her. I'm a Buffy fan, but I truly believe she was miscast in this part. I mean, I know there's only a few ways you can look scared, but for her, it looks so difficult to do. Whenever she jumps when the phone rings, or whips her head back when something looms behind her, she stands there with her knotted-eye-browed-mouth-half-open-single-teary-eyed expression that is anything but scared. Her performance just wasn't believable. She just stands there all streaked and tan. Too bad, cause I do kinda like her.
Regardless, The Grudge for all intents and purposes should not be called a remake. If anything, it's like one of those Reader's Digest condensed novels - taking the best parts for an easier read. And that's what this version is - an easy read, something that you really can't get into because you're not supposed to. The subtext will always be open to hardcore fans of the series, those who know the back-story and history of Kayako, Toshio, and the origins of the curse. But this film is really just meant to give you a scare and let you know that you'll be safe - as long as you stay out of that house.
Snowblood Apple Rating for this
Entertainment value: 5/10
Shock Factor: 7/10 - lots and lots of jump scenes, cheaply done, especially if you're watching the movie with headphones
Toshio: not Toe-she-oh
Kayako: not a Canadian canoe
Ryo Ishibashi: is a real star
Sarah Michelle Gellar: runs the gamut of emotions from A to A
Films in a Similar Style: Er... try Gakko no Kaidan G, Ju-on V-Cinema 1, Ju-on V-Cinema 2, Ju-on: The Grudge, Ju-on The Grudge 2, Tomie Rebirth
*** Try Ju-on V-Cinema 1 or Ju-on: The Grudge 2 instead ***
Snowblood Apple Filmographies
The Grudge Wallpaper
please note: the actual paper does not have the Snowblood Apple logo on it.
You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600]
Wallpaper credit: Alex Apple, 2005
As it's a very mainstream film, we've avoided giving too many links to other reviews here - you can find them all over, and remember, Google is your friend.
http://www.sonypictures.com/homevideo/thegrudge/index.html - official Sony Pictures portal leading to movie site, and with trailers and interviews. Will probably disappear before long, so don't blame us if it suddenly turns into a porn site ;-)
http://www.metrofilms.com/thegrudge/ - the official French site
http://www.thegrudge.it/ - the official Italian site
http://www.thejuon.com/flash.html - the official Japanese site, where confusingly the movie's been called The Ju-on. Oh my aching head...
http://www.dvdanswers.com/index.php?r=0&s=2&c=1218 - comprehensive DVD review as ever from DVDAnswers
http://www.upcominghorrormovies.com/movies/grudge.php - a HUGE amount of links, interviews etc from UHM
http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/2004/GRUDG.php - statistical data on what the movie cost and took
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/10/1029_041029_thegrudge.html - thoughtful article from National Geographic (of all people) about the current trend of remaking Asian movies in Hollywood
http://www.horror.com/php/article-605-1.html - interview with director Takashi Shimizu
http://www.filmmonthly.com/Profiles/Articles/TakashiShimizu/TakashiShimizu.html - another Shimizu interview, this time from Film Monthly
http://www.smgfan.com/StephenSusco.htm - interview with the writer of the screenplay
http://www.uncut.co.uk/film/sam_raimi/interviews/223 - interview with producer Sam Raimi
http://theonenetwork.com/movies/The_Grudge/1381/Info_Page.html - video interviews and clips
http://still-waiting.com/thegrudge/ - fan listing, if you're into that sort of thing