Once again, showing that Hollywood has no idea what to do with J-Horror, “The Grudge” is another in a continuing line of incomprehensible cash grabs. What was once creepy is now laughable and frustrating.
This loose remake of Japanese horror director Takashi Shimizu’s “Ju-on: The Grudge” franchise is what’s referred to as an “interquel.” Director/writer
Pesce’s script attempts to bridge events that occurred on both sides of the Pacific with a story that takes place in-between what happened in the other films. This idea quickly unravels, and Pesce, whose 2016 horror movie “The Eyes of My Mother” garnered praise, can’t seem to crack the “Ju-on” code.
Perhaps, the problem is that the mythology’s effectiveness is lost in translation. And to be fair, Shimizu’s original story-line was never interested in coherence.
The J-Horror (or “Japanese Horror”) phenomenon took flight in America in the early 2000s. The best of the adaptations remains Gore Verbinski’s 2002 remake of 1998’s “Ringu.” That film, entitled “The Ring,” enjoyed box office and some critical success as Verbinski and his screenwriter Ehren Kruger (one of the team of scribes on the upcoming “Top Gun: Maverick”) found a way to capitalize on elements of the novel by Kôji Suzuki.
The success of “The Ring” spawned a sequel in 2005, and another abysmal third film in 2017. But in its 2002 wake, smelling money, Hollywood produced “The Grudge” and “Dark Water” in 2005. Two more “Grudge” films followed in the States with ever-diminishing returns (the last of which was a direct-to-video release in 2009).
In an attempt to revive an arguably worn-out franchise, “The Grudge (2020)” is, once again, about what remains behind in a place where a horrible, tragic crime occurs. A curse upon the location lingers and, eventually, latches onto anyone who enters. It’s a haunted house narrative, inflated by frightening images and jump scares.
In previous incarnations, favored the creep factor over explicit gore. One of the hallmarks of J-Horror was the avoidance of blood and guts, instead relying on atmospheric chills. Often these films were unnerving but not outright scary. American versions have changed the script somewhat, but at their best, these movies captured a small measure of disturbing macabre.
So, in this 2020 “interquel,” we get a series of stories starting in 2002 Japan where the curse attaches itself to an American, who brings it home with murderous results. You see, the sinister force doesn’t want to help you out; rather, it just wants everyone dead.
And in an attempt to stay faithful to the source material, Pesce, who penned the story with the help of Jeff Buhler (see last year’s disappointing “Pet Sematary” remake), delivers a disjointed structure. Therefore, the events jump around in time with the central section featuring a police detective named Muldoon (played by gifted English actress Andrea Riseborough) and her son. Grieving the loss of her husband, Muldoon takes a new job in a small town, where, naturally, the curse has taken root.
Quickly, she’s called out to investigate the discovery of someone long-dead in their car in a rural wooded area. Her partner, detective Goodman (“The Nun’s” Demián Bichir), immediately discounts any thought of foul play. He’s instantly relieved when it’s revealed that the diseased is being investigated by the “Feds,” because she’s involved in the assisted suicide business. Of course, Goodman’s behavior raises red flags, and Muldoon digs deeper.
In time, Muldoon’s investigation uncovers a series of grisly murders linked to a particular home in the community. Try to forget that some of these murders don’t even take place in that home, and the curse, which is like a supernatural virus, seems to have no fixed locale. But when Muldoon does visit U.S. curse ground zero, she discovers an odd couple, the surviving member of which is the depraved Faith Matheson (“Insidious” star Lin Shaye, in full gore mode).
The stories within stories continue with flashbacks that merely confuse viewers rather entertain them. And like the films that preceded this one, the lack of faith in one-possession or haunting thread is evident. The producers don’t want to put their eggs in one basket by building the film around Riseborough’s Muldoon and her fight against a malevolent spirit. And by presenting a series of interrelated stories, “The Grudge” is similar to a horror anthology, but none of the individual tales are strong enough to justify the twisted whole.
Like the curse in “Ju-on” that affixes itself to innocent visitors, Hollywood is the evil that has polluted Japanese horror films. Look no further than “Death Note.” That Japanese franchise should have made the jump across the Pacific easily, and yet, somehow, what worked in Japan got lost when Netflix gave us an English-language adaptation in 2017. With “The Grudge (2020),” it’s becoming more and more evident that original material should be explored over recycling.
“The Grudge” is an exploitative waste of an emerging talent in director Pesce, who will, hopefully, find another original project worthy of his skills.
A RottenTomatoes.com Tomatometer-approved critic, Jonathan W. Hickman is also an entertainment lawyer, college professor, novelist, and filmmaker. He’s a member of the Atlanta Film Critics Circle, The Southeastern Film Critics Association, and the Georgia Film Critics Association. For more information about Jonathan visit: FilmProductionLaw.com or DailyFIlmFix.com