The Columbia Pictures film “The Grudge”, certainly brings enough to still love, but seems to be missing that special something after all this time.
This horror film stars Sarah Michelle Gellar (“The Crazy Ones”, “Robot Chicken”), Jason Behr (“Breakout Kings”, “Matadors”), William Mapother (“Hawaii Five-0”, “The Lottery”), Clea DuVall (“The Newsroom”, “Lizzie Borden Took an Ax”), KaDee Strickland (“Private Practice”, “The Family That Preys”), Grace Zabriskie (“The Judge”, “The Killing”), Bill Pullman (upcoming “Anarcy”, “The Equalizer”), Rosa Blasi (“The Thundermans”, “Haunted Highways”), Ted Raimi (“Murder of a Cat”, “Attack of the 50ft Cheerleader”), Ryo Ishibashi (“Towairaito Sasara Saya”, “Lady Joker”), Yoko Maki (“Mozu”, “Miyamoto Musashi”), Yuya Ozeki (“Oyaji no senaka”, “Ju-on: The Grudge 2”), Takako Fuji (Naruto: Shippuden”, “The Cat’s Whiskers”), and Takashi Matsuyama (“The Wolverine”, “June 6th”).
The film was directed by Takashi Shimizu (“7500”, “Kiki’s Delivery Service (2014)”) and written by Stephen Susco (upcoming “The Reach”, “High School”). It is based on the film “Ju-on: The Grudge”.
The film originally opened on Oct. 22, 2004.
The nonlinear storytelling, which was present in the original film, is still there. Normally this could be tiresome, but since the scenes that take place in the past, even by a few hours, are quick and seem short, you’re not pulled out of the story and bored. It’s effective not just because you can take a few beats to get past whatever previous bit of creepiness occurred, but because it allows for the rest of the story and drama to play out. It’s not forced upon you in some sort of quick way, like the writer forgot to include it and just inserted it later on, but in a constructive manner to suit the overall story. There’s also something that just feels creative about this entire approach. Typically we just get a straightforward story that, if it relies on any kind of backstory, forces a visual flashback/backstory segment, which usually does nothing but cut away from the main actors that could’ve easily explained this without added scenes.
The cinematography, I clearly wasn’t paying to the first time around. For this type of film it was absolutely stunning. Beautiful at times too. It helps that this film was actually shot in Japan and that there was just so much natural beauty to enhance the experience. What was accomplished here didn’t just allow for the locations or sets to be showcased, but put them to good use. I was surprised by how the majority of the scenes featured various wide shots to not just show how nicely done the sets were and provide a lot of atmosphere, but to allow for a bigger area to hide the unseen. Noises could be heard, but it wasn’t just an off screen experience. You could see so much more that was not only creatively shot, but helped to lend itself to building dread and fear. I’m always a fan of the offbeat or unusual shots as they make the viewing experience even more fun and isn’t just to be different than what you normally get.
The acting seemed to convey the right amount of fear for each character, even if some of those character’s weren’t afraid or anything for that long. That’s the main thing about this film that keeps it from being flat out bad. The acting isn’t bad, but it also doesn’t demand much from the cast. There’s no true character development or character anything, which in any other film would be terrible. Here, it’s okay only because there’s not much room for all that character development you’d expect. There’s enough character history laid out that you understand where things are for each one and that’s enough. You’re fine. You can enjoy the supernatural and horror elements, which ultimately is what you came for.
The one thing that stands out somehow, is that this isn’t nor do I believe it every really was, a scary film. It’s more just one that aims to work its way under your skin, to be disturbing and pull out the fear that lingers ever so close to the surface. By doing this, you can still get invested enough, have questions and jump a little at every tiny bit of movement that occurs. At first I just thought I’d taken a liking to a film that lacked anything interesting in the scare range, but as the film went on, I discovered it wasn’t just some sort of accident. It’s more a deliberate pacing where scares come in the form of cleverly designed disturbing sights and reveals, and less on traditional jump scares. After piecing this together, I could enjoy the film all the more for the slow burn style it has.
The use of the score wasn’t wasted either. It wasn’t perfect in its execution, seeing how it did use some jump scare cues, but on a much more muted note than usual, but because the score was used throughout. It could be heard in all its eerie and dramatic forms during many scenes, which was perfect in helping to create a certain tone and feel, as well as pull you into the moments that are meant to scare. Some scenes also lacked score, but only for the better. This film, unlike so many other horror films or thrillers, featured score that led into a particularly disturbing or mildly scary encounter, and then went all the way through and played until a given scene had finished. This is where the most successful creepy moments came in. One that stands out most is when Strickland is in her apartment, after being terrorized at work, and can’t escape the creepy unrelenting force that stalking her. She thinks it’s prank of some sort, but it turns out to be anything but. The score never let up and culminated in a wonderfully shot, written and acted scene. Great way to add to the fear that just keeps building.
I feel that the fact that this film was particularly tame on its use of violence is worth a mention. I’m not going on the totally surprised route, but pleasantly surprised. If this film had strived to add as much violence and gore as any other film maker might’ve tried to do, it would’ve suffered. The things that make this film unique when telling this ghost story, like those listed above, would’ve been lost. The overall effect wouldn’t have been there and this film would just be another violent horror film. The critics would’ve definitely hated it more and audiences wouldn’t have enjoyed seeing it. When I think on what may have been the most gruesome thing features, which was on screen for something like five seconds, it has to be the revelation of Yoko not having her jaw and seeing the now mangled face. That was pretty gross, but not excessive.
No matter how much time may pass I’m always going to have a special spot for this film in my heart, mainly as it’s got all the elements I like in a supernatural horror film. Even if this film is technically a remake, it helps that this (as far as I know) was only the second and last good one, of the wave of Asian horror film remakes that occurred for far longer than was needed. Even now, it still manages to be creepy enough to make me okay with the fact that I bought this movie so long ago. Some film choices aren’t always the best 10 years down the road.