Directed by: Takashi Shimizu
Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behur, William Mapother, Clea DuVall, Bill Pullman
Yes, it's Buffy the Feature-film Slayer in another non-Scooby-Doo attempt to make it on the big screen. It's also the most desperate effort anyone is ever likely to make at copying The Ring -- and a pathetically inadequate attempt at that.
Director Takashi Shimizu brings a certain degree of style to this Americanized remake of his Ju-on: The Grudge, but it's pretty much the same style over and over and over again. I haven't seen the Japanese original, and nothing about the remake makes me anxious to fill this gap in my cinematic experience. If that version isn't any better structured or more coherent than the new one, I'm baffled that anyone wanted to remake it.
The logic must have been grounded in the simplistic theory that since one remake of a Japanese horror film, The Ring, was a hit, another such attempt would have the same success.
I saw this film minus an audience, though one other person kept coming in and out of the screening. At the end he asked me, "If I hadn't left every 10 minutes or so, would it have sucked so bad?" I told him I thought it likely that missing chunks of this movie would only decrease its suckage factor.
I am told, however, that young girls scream a good deal during regular showings. It's quite possible that I'm just too much the jaded veteran of too many horror pictures to appreciate what's offered here, but the thrills -- such as they are -- are cheap shots that require the characters to engage in the most improbable behaviors to set up the shock effect. They all seem to work on the assumption that none of the film's characters has ever seen a horror movie, so they're all too prone to checking on the cause of the strange noise in that creepy house's attic.
The characters in The Grudge do this sort of thing with alarming frequency, and the pay-off is always the same: a loud blast of music and something nasty popping up. It doesn't take much skill to make viewers jump by simply startling them, and that's all that's at work here.
The story is a nonstop parade of nonsensical doings that makes you suspect most of the characters don't have two brain cells to rub together. Though the movie is "artistically" structured (read: The story is told out of order), the plot really starts when Matthew Williams (William Mapother, In the Bedroom) and his wife, Jennifer (Clea DuVall, 21 Grams) rent a rather gloomy house in Tokyo. Never mind that Matthew's mother (Grace Zabriskie, No Good Deed) rouses from her near cataleptic state to wander upstairs and stare fearfully at the closet to the attic. And let's overlook the fact that Matthew finds the real estate agent lying in the floor, soaked from a ghostly attempt to pull him into the inexplicably full bathtub. Indeed, let's just pretend that he'll forget the house's foreboding nature and simply tell the agent, "We'll take it." Now, these are the sort of problems that might make me want to look at a few other properties, but then, I've seen horror movies, and apparently the Williams family hasn't.
Those problems will haunt everyone who sets foot in the house (well, everyone but the real estate agent, who seems immune to it all), especially American exchange student Karen (Gellar). Sadly, little of this makes any sense. The movie's much-hyped concept, that "when a person dies in the grip of a powerful rage or sorrow, a curse is born," is completely undeveloped. One might suppose that this would result in that person's spirit being the problem, but The Grudge offers us a mama ghost, a papa ghost, a baby ghost and -- instead of Goldilocks -- a feline ghost. (Which brought to mind Cary Grant in Arsenic and Old Lace remarking, "Even the cat's in on it!")
I'm presuming it's the mama ghost who died in the grip of a powerful rage, based solely on the fact that she tends to be the most active of the spooks. And what a creation she is. For some reason, she emits a sound suggesting gastric distress to telegraph her presence; once she even phones a victim to do this. That she does this without benefit of carbonation is admittedly impressive, and I've no doubt that this talent would make her the hit of a sleepover party comprised of 10-year-old boys, but really... what were they thinking? (And they missed a swell potential ad campaign rip-off, too: "Before you die, you hear the belch.")
Eventually we learn what originally happened in the house and why the movie opens with Bill Pullman throwing himself off the balcony (no, it wasn't because he'd just seen the rough cut of the film). But the explanation is so drab and mundane that it's not worth the bother of sorting out the movie's convoluted structure. Actually, nothing about The Grudge is worth the bother of seeing it.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke