Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr, Bill Pullman
Directed by: Takashi Schimizu
Japanese folklore states that when someone dies in a state of extreme terror or rage, a curse is born.
This curse, or grudge, becomes a permanent stain on the place where the death was wrought and all those who visit that place will be consumed and destroyed by the sinister, evil force that drives the power of the curse.
No doubt hoping to exorcise her own ghosts from the Buffy series, Sarah Michelle Gellar takes on the role of Karen, an American student living and studying in Tokyo. She’s faced with the challenge of finding a place to live and as luck would have it, a family of fellow American ex-pats requires a home care worker for the feeble mother and Karen is able to move in with them.
Looking to acquire an academic credit for volunteer work (there’s always a reason), Karen reluctantly agrees to pinch-hit for the home’s usual worker, Yoko, who has suddenly gone missing.
In time, the entire extended family associated with the house disappears. Karen is hospitalized when a paranormal experience leaves her emotionally shattered, and she finds the woman she was caring for dead of mysterious causes.
A subsequent police investigation, coupled with Karen’s own online sleuthing, uncovers the horrific history of the home, which can now be linked to several deaths — both in the house and abroad. What began as a double murder suicide fueled by jealous rage now lingers and infects each person it touches like a ghostly virus.
Director Takashi Schimizu takes the unheard-of step of directing this American remake of his Japanese film Ju-On. He transplants the classic haunted house tale to the Orient and presents a philosophical ‘stranger in a strange land’ motif to evoke a sense of isolation and solitude in the otherwise densely populated metropolis of Tokyo. At the same time Schimizu’s film taps into the pre-existing and seemingly waxing public fascination with Japanese horror.
Comparisons to The Ring are inevitable, although The Grudge lacks the enduringly chilling and unsettling imagery of the former, and instead focuses on providing relentless thrills and jump scenes which are more superficial than cerebral.
However, many of the movie’s macabre elements are essentially analogous to conventions which defined The Ring, including the use of water and telephones as thematic fixtures, ghoulish faces veiled in long black hair and the arcane creepiness of quiet children.
The end result is a film which purists will no doubt decry as another bastardization of an original Asian ghost story, but which nonetheless holds up as an effective reinvention of the generic haunted house story.
If you can stomach the interruptive chatter of the slack-jawed mall rats that are inevitably drawn to these kinds of films, then The Grudge makes for great Halloween fodder and a fun ride.