The Grudge is a horror film released in 2004 that is a remake of the Japanese horror film titled Ju-On: The Grudge (2002). The Grudge is directed by Takashi Shumizu (same director who also did Ju-On: The Grudge) and stars Sarah Michelle Gellar and Jason Behr, mainly. The story is about a couple, Doug and Karen, played by Gellar and Behr respectively. They move to Tokyo so that Doug can finish some school, while Karen takes on a nursing job. On her first outing to a house, after the previous nurse failed to return to work, she is tasked to a house to care for a mother who has dementia. And in this house is weird stuff so let’s talk about it.
The film opens with a different couple awakening from their slumber in a hotel where the husband walks out onto the balcony and then falls off, committing suicide. The following scene holds a key character (well…kinda key character) named Yoko who goes to the house with the mother who has dementia. Yoko hears weird sounds, goes to investigate and then gets taken hostage (I think, or dies) by the thing that did a bump in the attic. I have to say, although this scene was kind of, you know, pointless it was pretty freaky. It introduces us to the grudge-thing. It isn’t until after those two scenes when we are finally given our main characters, Doug and Karen.
So, let’s talk characters, in the first five minutes of this film, we’ve had 4 characters introduced to us (two of which die right off the bat). I would also like to point out these characters aren’t mentioned again until late into the second act…glad we got to know them. But I don’t know if this movie knows how to character. The only one with a hint of some anyways is our main-main character, Karen. Everyone else is so one-dimensional and boring with forced incentives to be on screen that it’s hard to take them as real people. The acting is…acting, I mean, it is hard to spout lines of dialogue when the script is written the way it is. The only other character with maybe something to him (which is still a bit of a stretch) is a police chief, who doesn’t need to have this big of a role. I feel he was written in this movie because there would have only been one main character otherwise. The movie tries to give him incentive to be in the movie as much as he is, but not nearly enough. The movie never gives me a reason to care for him, or anyone for that matter.
Karen, poor Karen, she is not a well written character, sorry girl. When she starts taking care of the mother, the thing (or the Grudge, whatever it is) does…uhm something to Karen, I guess. So she’s completely in shock for a little bit, still alive though. This of course brings us into the second act where Karen recover, in an easy five minutes of screen time, and starts to wonder what the crap that thing was in that house. The problem is, we never get to see what the grudgey thing did to her. From the beginning, you would think she would have died because of the other characters that bit the dust, but nope, she was just scared stiff. I think it was at this point that the movie knew it was bouncing around characters too much like a freakin’ pinball machine so it made an attempt to focus.
It’s hard for me to relate to Karen, and I don’t think it’s because we are different genders. I don’t get her drive to investigate, she just decides to start to do so, whilst also being haunted by the grudgey thing (yes it haunts her, trust me, I know just as much about the rules of this thing as you do). The actor who plays her, Sarah Michelle Gellar, does a good enough job I think (or a passable one, like I said, it’s hard to present yourself as a good actor with this writing) but she needs more to work with. She doesn’t feel like a grounded character. Just one to provide a story with.
This movie has a very interesting way of presenting its story, I can’t say that I think it’s implemented in the best it could be here, but I enjoy the idea they are going for. What this movie does is present a situation in modern time then will flashback to a time in the past (without telling you, might I add), then return to the present in order to dump exposition. Unfortunately, half the time the exposition is basically used as a plot device to give a reason for our main character to end up in the house, which she is then scared and we then have a movie. Convenience, y’all. I wouldn’t mind this very much, except exposition isn’t really given to us until the latter half of the second act, when main character Karen says “enough running” and tries to figure out when the grudgey thing is. Only about 30 minutes too late though. The whole time it’s just Karen being confronted by the grudgey thing and her being scared. It doesn’t make for a well written film, an entertaining one maybe but not a good movie in general. This movie I feel need to rebalance its script. Things are spilled in awkward places, with a weird transition (or no transition at all) to then give events and exposition.
Unfortunately, what this movie doesn’t do is tell us what exactly the grudge (or whatever it’s supposed to be). It shows us where it came from, and kind of what it can do…well, sort of I guess, but it never really gives a definitive answer. The grudgey thing kills two throwaway characters in the opening, but then leaves our Karen alone when she meets it. It doesn’t ever explain why it left her alone, it just…does I guess. There is a fine line between using ambiguity in an attempt to make things scary, and things being scary as an effect of ambiguity. The Grudge doesn’t give enough exposition for me to fully grasp the idea of what the monster is. It shows me, but I still don’t fully grasp what it’s showing me, it feels weak, it doesn’t explain itself well enough. I like ambiguity in a film, it allows me to think about the meaning and the film itself as a whole. But The Grudge needs more of exposition first. It needs to solidify itself as a film and then give the ambiguousness. I don’t think the movie is trying to make me think by leaving out exposition and being ambiguous, but it also isn’t giving the right amount of exposition in the first place.
Now with all that being said, I have to say I did enjoy this film, funny enough. Usually I’m not big on PG-13 horror films, they can easily be cash grabs and like to cut back on really bringing out the horror. But in The Grudge’s case, I felt it was pretty good in showing what it can and cannot, at least for the unrated cut. The film knows how to build tension well. It constructs the scene around the horror in the right ways to scare the audience at just the right time (usually). There were a couple of jump scares but no fake ones, they always fit the terror of the scene. But where this movie falls short is its story and characters. I’ve talked about most of these a bunch, and for good reason, they are the biggest downfalls for this movie. The characters are all weak and mostly one-dimensional. The story feels like it could be more interesting given more exposition and would let me know when we are in the narrative. I wish the incentives for characters were more believable. I wish the story would explain its antagonist (the grudgey thing) a little more to really scare me. But I did find it to be pretty fun, there’s nothing too special here. And if you want the scariest version of this movie, I would recommend the unrated cut. So in the end I’m giving The Grudge a generous 6/10 stars, with the mildest of recommends. Good for a fun scare.