The Grudge (2004) / Horror-Thriller

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for scary images and violent scenes
Running Time: 96 min.

Cast: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Bill Pullman, Clea DuVall, Jason Behr, KaDee Strickland, William Mapother, Grace Zabriskie, Rosa Blasi, Ted Raimi, Ryo Ishibashi, Yoko Maki, Yuya Ozeki
Director: Takashi Shimizu
Screenplay: Stephen Susco
Review published October 24, 2004

Some horror movies scare you with their story, some with suspense.  Some of the makers of the more recent horror films, especially in Asian horror, just want to scare you without providing much of either.  The Grudge is one of those films.  It's an Americanized version of Ju-on: The Grudge, which in itself was a remake of a movie made for Japanese television called Ju-on, and in all incarnations, directed by the same man, Takashi Shimizu, who has also directed sequels for both the Japanese release and the television version.  As this is the fifth time that Shimizu is revisiting the same scary world, you'd think that he'd have glossed over all of the weaknesses by now, and bolstered everything with a more interesting story, but alas, it's not the case.  The Grudge hits you with nothing but disturbing images, over and over again, only stopping to try to tie it all together with the merest semblance of a story to qualify as a movie.

Here's the story: Karen (Gellar, Scooby-Doo) is visiting Japan with her boyfriend (Behr), later accepting a job as caretaker to an elderly American woman who doesn't speak or move.  While checking out some strange sounds throughout the house, she encounters a young boy locked in a closet, or at least it appears to be, as she can't be sure if what she sees is real or just some unsavory apparitions.

This is the simplest way I can spell out the story without spoilers.  Before you get to following Gellar around, we see Bill Pullman (Independence Day, The Guilty) jumping out of his hotel window, and later on, a flashback to show why the old woman is the way she is.  Shimizu directs this tale with shifting continuity, but never to the point of total confusion, at least in terms of when it flashes back.  What is confusing is the rest of the film, which raises many questions, answers only a few, and then leaves you hanging in the end.  The reason why very few answers or a satisfactory ending are not provided is clear -- Shimizu only wants to scare you.  He doesn't want you to think, he doesn't want you to care, he doesn't want you to understand a damn thing.  All he has is a series of build-ups, capped off with fright-inducing shots of an eerie young boy or a creepy woman who comes after people all buggy-eyed and open-mouthed.

Whether or not the goods are delivered depends on your expectations coming in.  If you are expecting an interesting story, solid characterizations, or to be thrown for a loop, you're most likely to be bored, as Shimizu only gives us the bare minimum required in order to dish out what he wants.  Those who are looking for a movie to scare you into peeking through your hands whenever a scene full of scary images looms, this has plenty of shock value.  Very much in the style of a previous American remake of Japanese horror, The Ring, it's an effectively spooky time at the movies, but boy is it ever silly.  Creepy? Yes, but not much more than that.

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo