As a rule I love J-Horror however somewhat surprisingly The Grudge is the exception to that rule. 2002’s Ju-On: The Grudge, which although the third in the series was the first to be shown outside of Japan, did have some spectacular scares but for me the story was far too random and nonsensical to really frighten me.
As a series The Grudge has been spectacularly successful with 9 Japanese films as well as TV shows, comics, video games and novels all based around the cursed house and its spiteful ghostly inhabitants. It even lead to a crazy crossover with the Ring series 2016’s Sadako vs. Kayako which is insanely enjoyable.
Obviously and depressingly Hollywood remade The Grudge and the 2004 Sarah Michelle Gellar staring version of Ju-On itself spawned 2 sequels. All of the films used the same house and similar elements to the original but told a new story still focusing on the idea that the rage left in the abandoned abode creates furious spirits focused only on passing on the pain left behind.
Which brings us to 2020’s unoriginally titled The Grudge and interestingly although the movie produced by Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert was announced as a reboot it has emerged as a sidequel taking place alongside the events of the 2004 remake making it actually the forth film in the American Grudge series.
The link is Fiona Landers (Tara Westwood) a live-in nurse who we see at the start of this movie in 2004 leaving the infamous house where the events of the majority of the movies take place. As she heads for Pennsylvania there is just time for a quick encounter with Kayako Saeki the malevolent spirit that dominates this series before we jump ahead to 2006 and meet our main protagonist widowed mother of one Detective Muldoon (Mandy’s Andrea Riseboroug).
Having just moved to the same small town Fiona came back to two years previously Muldoon is partnered with world weary cop Goodman (Demián Bichir from The Nun) and there first case together, a hideously rotting and mutilated corpse found in a car in the woods, links back to a case that the old timer would rather not remember and an address, 44 Reyburn Drive, that he can never forget.
Jumping about between 2004, 2005 and 2006 we witness the curse which has followed Fiona Landers from Tokyo and moved into her home, 44 Reyburn Drive, stating to effect everyone who sets foot inside in more and more disturbing ways.
From the Landers family who were all horribly murdered, to the real estate agents selling the doomed property Peter and Nina Spencer (played by the brilliant John Cho and Betty Gilpin) who are about to have a child together to the latest owners Faith and William Matheson (played by genre legend Lin Shaye and Frankie Faison) who are linked to the body in the woods and even Goodman’s ex-partner. All of this brings Detective Muldoon to the doorstep of the haunted home and the grudge into her and her sons life.
Attempting a far more interesting way of telling the same story as all the other films co-writer and director Nicolas Pesce draws out plenty of drama from the excellent ensemble cast he has collected in The Grudge and the build up to the brutal murders is well handled.
The jumps are plenty and the effects gruesome and good enough but the real scares simply are not there and this is equal parts the fault of the film and its source material. The visions we witness just don’t seem scary enough and the absence of Kayako Saeki and her equally unnerving supernatural son and sidekick Toshio Saeki is greatly felt especially as nothing is offered to fill the iconic villainous vacuum.
The other issue for me personally is exactly the same as I have with every other film in The Grudge series and that is that the rules of the film just don’t make sense. It seems all it takes is for a character to set foot in the house and the curse is on them bringing the spirits into their own home to be terrorised for all time. Does that now mean anyone who sets foot in the new cursed house is cursed as well? Does the curse spread to everyone they live with? What about all the cleaners, builders, plumbers, home helps and family members that visited 44 Reyburn Drive over the 3 years, are all of them cursed too? Wow thats one heck of a lot of ghosts wandering about spooking and slaughtering innocent people.
The only defence against The Grudge is simply to never go into the home that is affected as Detective Goodman proves in this film, so really its just dumb luck and nothing else at all that leads to you being attacked and that for me is just, well its just dumb.
Sure, it is my curse to ask these questions and other may find the randomness of The Grudge’s concept powerful and chilling but for me it just doesn’t work and perhaps it never will. But perhaps I am missing the point and at at its heart this version of The Grudge is really about the randomness of life, the untimeliness of grief and the sudden shock of pain; in the dramas that play out of unexpected illness and loss between the characters in the film this is clearly a theme its just a pity its not explored further and that the horror isn’t handled better and with more bite as maybe then this would have been a far better film.
Credit goes to the cast for some great performances and Nicolas Pesce for making a nonlinear narrative companion piece rather than a another reimagining or reboot. For those looking for original takes on the haunted house story why not try the first series of American Horror Story Murder House or even Darren Lynn Bousman underrated 2016 horror Abattoir instead.