Directed by: Takashi Shimizu
Starring: Amber Tamblyn, Arielle Kebbel, Edison Chen, Jennifer Beals, Teresa Palmer, Matthew Knight
I don't think it's entirely the fact that Sarah Michelle Gellar pegs out early on in the proceedings that I found The Grudge 2 slightly more appealing than its predecessor. Yes, it's slapdash, silly rather than scary and almost completely incoherent (maybe that's what Gellar meant when she once said she only chooses to make films she doesn't understand). However, it does have a handful of truly eerie moments, and there's something to be said for director Takashi Shimizu's apparent lack of concern for anything that remotely resembles traditional narrative.
OK, so it's possible that he's merely incapable of coming up with a traditional narrative structure, or indeed a structure of any kind. But since The Grudge (2004) boasted a reasonably straightforward storyline -- a storyline that was about as lively as a 3-day-old dead mackerel and nearly as smelly, but straightforward all the same -- it's barely reasonable to assume that The Grudge 2 is deliberately befuddled.
Near as I can discern, there are no less than three stories going on here.
The main story follows Karen Davis' (Gellar) sister, Aubrey (Amber Tamblyn, TV's Joan of Arcadia), in her attempts to find out what drove her big sister to maybe kill her boyfriend and possibly set fire to a house. This isn't terribly interesting, since we already know from the first movie that all you have to do is set foot in the now somewhat charred house in order to be marked for slaughter by the resident Japanese hair ghost (I can think of nothing else to call her) and her meowing spawn. It also doesn't help that Amber Tamblyn doesn't seem all that interested in the investigation, though she does cry a lot -- an understandable response to finding one's self in this movie.
Then there's a subplot about three teenage schoolgirls (all clad in those uniforms that mostly seem to exist these days for use on certain specialty Web sites) who apparently didn't see the first movie and so enter the haunted house with predictable results.
Ah, but then ... oh, my, then we have what appears to be a wholly unrelated story about a non-too-functional family in a creepy apartment building in Chicago. I'm not sure why it's in Chicago, but take my word for it. These folks seem to be in a world of sub-Polanski mental disintegration, but it takes forever to understand what's really going on, and even longer to give up on even trying to follow the time line of the events. It opens with stepmother Trish (Jennifer Beals, no less) pouring hot bacon grease on hubby's (Christopher Cousins, Wicker Park) head before braining him with the frying pan, thereby giving new meaning to Beal's anthemic, "She's a maniac, maniac." Later on, this attack on the husband obviously hasn't happened yet. Does it really matter? Probably not.
Like the idiotic The Ring Two (2005), the laws that governed the spook-show antics of the original film have been cheerfully tossed out the window. You no longer have to go to the ghost, the ghost can -- and will -- come to you, making nonsense of the whole "three little maids from school" plotline, the original film and several other lesser details. With this newfound freedom, the grudge-bearing specter is soon all over the place, shedding her long hair in various and sundry shower stalls and clogging drains on a global level. Unless you're a shareholder in Draino, I can't imagine why this would interest you.
A lot of it feels like padding. There's a trip to the country to meet the ghost's mother that might have been lifted intact from The Ring (2002), but which serves absolutely no function, because all we learn is that the strange childhood the spirit led (involving eating exorcized demons) doesn't play a part in her hirsute hauntings! The problem is, I think, that Shimizu has a bottomless well of creepy images (even if some of them aren't terribly original), but no story to tell and even less point to make. His whole interest seems to be to get from one weird bit of imagery to the next and nothing more. A few of these are unsettling in themselves. Others -- a girl chugging a quart-plus of milk and then vomiting it back into the milk jug -- are just peculiar. But all in all, it hardly matters because it all adds up to nothing much other than tedium. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, disturbing images/terror/violence and some sensuality.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke