There’s a weird history with The Grudge that deserves some explanation. Most probably remember the Sam Raimi produced and Sarah Michelle Gellar starring 2004 film, which was a remake of the original Japanese film from 2002 and were both directed by Takashi Shimizu. From a personal standpoint, I thought the American version of The Grudge was laughable and Ju-On: The Grudge wasn’t much better. What made matters worse is that somebody recommended Ju-On: The Grudge as one of the scariest films they’d ever seen, which only soured the situation even further.
Other than a sequel to the 2004 American version of The Grudge, I think we all kind of moved on after that. But there was also a third installment that went direct to DVD in 2009 while Ju-On spawned its own five-film franchise outside of The Grudge culminating with a crossover with The Ring in 2016. The interest in Japanese supernatural horror kind of fizzled out to the majority of the American masses over the years.
For a franchise that is more than a decade and a half old, you pretty much know what to expect but what makes this new version of The Grudge different or worthwhile?
The frustrating aspect of The Grudge is that it’s a promising concept that could be scary or intriguing, but it never seems to live up to its potential. The concept remains the same in the new film; it revolves around a vengeful curse erupting from someone’s death initially triggered by rage or sorrow. The curse manifests itself as this entity, typically Kayako Saeki, which resides where the person dies.
The curse jumps from victim to victim as anyone who comes in contact with it perishes. The new film takes place between 2004 and 2006 as Fiona Landers, a live-in nurse, leaves the Tokyo house where she was working and returns to her family in Cross River, Pennsylvania unknowingly bringing the curse with her. Fiona kills her daughter and her husband before violently taking her own life.
What made this version of The Grudge feel different is that it had a hard R-rating. The other films seemed to purposely dance around a PG-13 rating without ever really showing the gory details horror fans tend to love. Nicolas Pesce, director of The Eyes of My Mother and 2019’s Piercing, was brought in to write and direct the new Grudge film seemingly giving the franchise new life. Pesce doesn’t have many credits to his name but is a hungry filmmaker attempting to make a name for himself. Surely, The Grudge would be a chance for him to put his own trademark on the supernatural franchise, right?
The Grudge yanks away the few aspects of the franchise that you’ve come to enjoy other than the concept. Kayako Saeki, who is basically the face of the franchise, only appears at the beginning and end of the film (for a whopping eight seconds of total screen time) as the torch has seemingly passed to Fiona Landers and her family. The timeline of the film is also kind of confusing; the film isn’t a full on reboot but takes place during and after the other Grudge films. It’s not every day that you get to throw around the term, “sidequel,” when describing a film.
While The Grudge doesn’t shy away from blood and gore, the kills are predictable, stale, and just downright disgusting. While The Grudge is known for being this murderous supernatural entity with a lust for vengeance that is never fully satisfied, this new version of the film still mostly portrays it in a goofy light as it’s mostly seen as a breathing trash bag, hogging the blankets, helping condition your hair in the shower, resetting the clocks, and de-tuning the radio. Other than its violent outbursts, The Grudge comes off as more of a prankster that lashes out when you don’t find its routine humorous.
There’s also this fascination with maggots, flies, and blood that has been around for so long that it’s either turned brown or is just actually feces. Poor Lin Shaye is practically swimming in this ghostly blood-poop the entire film. It feels like the whole, “closing our eyes and counting to five,” aspect could have and should have been scarier or at least more intriguing. Like the other Grudge films, Pesce’s film is told out of chronological order seemingly showing you events that aren’t connected in the slightest and then revealing that everything is intertwined in some capacity.
Andrea Riseborough is mostly forgotten about as the lead in the film who will mostly be remembered for her stupid hairstyle, John Cho takes a shower, William Sadler shoots himself in the face and rips out his own eyeballs solely because he decided to be involved with this film, and Demián Bichir is indecipherable with his dialogue at times. Frankie Faison and Jacki Weaver deliver the best performances in The Grudge, but that’s like saying you’re that top layer of hardened skin in a cracked bowl of rotting guacamole.
Disappointingly enough, The Grudge is flat out boring. Filled with purposeful self-mutilation and a ghost-child that only shows up to hold hands in an empty supermarket and make juicy gagging noises for no reason whatsoever, The Grudge attempts to provide a new take to an already well-established audience completely devoid of what that audience desires.
Dirty bathtub water and fetus stabbings aside, The Grudge is this bland, finger-chopping, stairwell-plunging, America-residing meat substitute sloppily shoehorned between the moldy, stagnant, and Japanese-originated pieces of bread that crumbles, deteriorates, and barely holds the film together each time the audience takes a metaphorical bite over the film’s lifeless duration. Bellow out one last sorrowful Death Rattle/Grudge-gurgle, this is the franchise flat lining without so much as a whimper.
- A 15+ year horror concept is still intriguing.
- R-rating is fully utilized.
- John Cho’s, “I’m going to murder us with deliciousness,” line.
- Kayako is mostly absent.
- Kills are expectedly lame.
- Performances are almost as dry as the film itself.