Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is an exchange student living in Japan, studying social work. When her colleague Yoko (Yoko Maki) doesn't show up for work, Karen is sent as her replacement to care for an elderly American patient Emma (Grace Zabriskie), who lives with her son Matthew (William Mapother) and his wife Jennifer (Clea DuVall). On arrival, she finds the house in total disarray and woman in a coma. When she investigates the strange sounds she hears upstairs, Karen is confronted by a mysterious and terrifying supernatural force. A force which has also impacted on her boyfriend Doug (Jason Behr), Emma's daughter Susan (KaDee Strickland) and English University Professor Peter (Bill Pullman).
Review by Louise Keller:
It has only taken a year for writer/director Takashi Shimizu's Japanese horror thriller Ju-On to be remade as an English-language co-production, and from first indications at the US box office, nothing seems to have been lost in translation. The Ring, the remake from the highly successful Ringu franchise, appears to have paved the way for a whole new strain of Japanese-style horror. And there are certainly echoes, parallels and commonalities, including its Japanese producer Taka Ichise who is credited with giving Shimizu his big chance.
The Grudge is genuinely creepy and much of the disorientation of the characters (and our own) comes from the fact it is set in Japan, adding the fish-out-of-water elements to an already chilling premise. As for the curse itself, which results from a death so violent, that it lurks around as an invisible force, enveloping everyone who enters the premises where the death took place, there is no doubt that cultural implications add to the impact. The key to making the hairs on the back of neck stand up, however, comes from director Shimizu's ability to create a chilling and unsettling mood.
There's what we see, what we don't see and what we imagine we see. There's a stillness in the air and the silences are like punctuation - making us wait. The sounds we hear are disquieting. The ticking of the clock becomes the beating of our heart, as every shadow, reflection, squeak and tinkling sounds take their toll. There are footprints leading nowhere, ominous cobwebs, opaque glass, a screeching black cat, a small boy and the haunting face of a Japanese woman with long, black hair and oriental eyes that are rounded by fear.
The Grudge is most enjoyable without too much analysis. It is after all, simply a variation on a successful theme. The performances are all adequate, and the fans probably won't mind that Sarah Michelle Gellar's innocent Karen has only two expressions - surprised and scared. And reprising their roles from the original film, are Japanese actors Takako Fuji and Yuya Ozeki as the female ghost and little boy. But it's the opening scene with Bill Pullman's middle-aged University professor that grabs our attention, making us dive with him headfirst into the horrors of what is to come.
I like the sense of anonymity that the film generates, as Karen is caught up in Tokyo rush hour, with swarms of people crossing the busy intersections. By the time she has made her way through the back streets, map in hand, up a deserted path where fallen leaves give an occasional flutter, we are ready to enter the cold and foreboding house where an invisible mantle of evil spreads its wings.
The past and the present are woven together effectively, reaching a startling climax when the past actually does catch up with the present. It's as though time has momentarily stopped and we watch the events through Karen's wide-eyed amazement. There is no doubt the filmmakers of The Grudge are counting their money in advance; we know without any doubt from the closing scene that a sequel is not far away.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The film begins with a suicide, the cause of which we don't discover until the end. And when we do, it's an intriguing reveal. But that's about the most adventurous and inventive the film gets, while it rehashes the clichees of the genre, ranging from other-worldly eerie and mostly silent but wide eyed child, a screeching black cat, things that go bump in the ceiling, rattling doors and windows, silhouettes that shouldn't be there - and of course the crash-boom sounds made by the sound designer. To make sure we know which genre we are watching, the characters always walk (towards those mysterious sounds) e v e r s o s l o w l y; if they walked normally, the film would be 45 minutes shorter.
Maybe it's me: I'm either too impatient with the inanities of Japanese horror films or immune to their thrills. I don't buy the inconsistencies of the plot: in this case a curse on the place where someone murders a family in a rage, and the curse affects the house forever. But the curst also goes walkabout and turns up across Tokyo in an apartment block and - most amusingly - on several floors simultaneously as the lift descends, and we catch a glimpse through the lift's narrow window - but the occupant doesn't.
Nor do I accept the sudden absence of the curse's manifestations just when the cops come to investigate. Perplexed by the time shifts in the structure, I also wonder why the long black hair of the cursed creature that rages about the movie reminds me of The Ring . . .
Bill Pullman does a great job as a ghost, but there's little about Sarah Michelle Gellar's Karen that is out of the ordinary; mind you, with a script that calls for a lot of gaping mouths, this is perhaps unfair of me.
The film offers minimal in 'fright' and the maximum in trite, but it may be a useful date movie, scaring couples into each other's embrace. At the media preview, none of the other critics grabbed my hand, but a few laughed here and there. Do we need therapy, perhaps?
Email this article
GRUDGE, THE (MA)
CAST: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr, William Mapother, Clea DuVall, KaDee Strickland, Grace Zabriskie, Bill Pullman
PRODUCER: Doug Davison, Takashige Ichise, Roy Lee, Robert G. Tapert
DIRECTOR: Takashi Shimizu
SCRIPT: Stephen Susco (Takashi Shimizu's film Ju-on: The Grudge)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Hideo Yamamoto
EDITOR: Jeff Betancourt
MUSIC: Christopher Young
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Not credited
RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 18, 2004