Let me take you back to 2004. Usher’s Yeah was playing on the radio. People still listened to the radio. Flip phones were still a thing. The iPod was barely making its way onto the scene, and the ones that were available actually had a click-wheel that turned. And in the movie theaters of a America, Takashi Shimizu’s second take on The Grudge was terrifying teenagers. The Grudge is a direct remake of 2002’s Ju-On that represents a pretty obvious cash-grab and whitewashing of the original in an attempt to appeal to a western audience. Problematic social politics aside, how does the movie stand-up? Check out our spoiler filled review below to find out.
Reviewed by: Mark
The movie itself happens in a series of non-chronologically aligned vignettes. In order to keep this synopsis relatively straightforward I’m not going to do that.
Kayako is a married college student in Professor Peter’s (Bill Pullman) class. She falls in love with him because he is apparently uniquely her type. When her husband finds out he flips his lid and kills, like, everybody. He even drowns the family cat. He’s a cold dude. Peter winds up finding out what happened, gets all despondent, and kills himself by jumping from a balcony. Notably, he does not deliver his Independence Day speech before doing so.
Sometime later, Nurse Yoko (Yoko Maki) goes to check on the new family living in Kayako’s house. She finds the place relatively deserted but her elderly patient is still alive and kicking, albeit still chalk-full of dementia. She hears some spooky noises coming from the attic, and when she goes to check them out she meets Kayako who kindly rips her jaw off.
After Yoko goes radio silent, her employer grows worried and sends nurse Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) to check things out. She finds the house in an increased level of disrepair, but once again the elderly lady is still just sorta chillin there. Karen investigates the house only to find little ghost boy Toshio (Yuya Ozeki) and a sentient smoke ghost who kills the elderly lady (finally) and scares the bejesus out of Karen.
Once the police are called to the scene the curse sorta just balloons from there. The old lady’s daughter gets stalked in an office building and then attacked inside of her bed. The guy who runs the nursing service is attacked by a now jawless Yoko. Yada yada yada. Having had enough of Kayako’s shit, Karen returns to the house and tries to burn it down to stop the curse from spreading any further. Kayako takes exception to this and attacks her as the house begins to inflagrate.
Later, in the hospital, Karen is recovering from the attack and is called in to identify the remains of her boyfriend who died in the fire. As the detectives reveal to the audience that they were able to put the fire out and thus save the house, you see the figure of Kayako rise from Karen’s boyfriend’s bodybag. Dun Dun Dun.
What the Movie Does Right
In relation to Ju-On the story is a bit tighter in this version. It’s actually a pretty interesting game to play to learn what they wanted to change about the original movie. Probably the biggest change is the complete removal of the Izumi segment. In Ju-On the Izumi segment takes place roughly 5 years after the main events of the film, and it presents some issues as far as the narrative goes. By removing it from the story the narrative becomes tighter and more focused on the current time period.
The scares in general also get a pretty significant upgrade. Although some still look a little goofy (SMG’s original meeting with Kayako is a good example), they are significantly improved from in the predecessor. I am a particularly large fan of the changes they made to Yoko’s character arc. The choice to have her jawless ghost attack her former boss is a large improvement over her original ending, which was just the police finding her dead in the attic. Altogether, The Grudge took one of the scariest movies ever, and improved on it enough to make a truly terrifying film.
What the Movie Does Wrong
Many of the issues present in the original film are still present. There’s no great explanation as to why 100s of people aren’t being haunted by this demon. The film’s story is still pretty difficult to follow due to it constantly jumping around. By removing the Izumi segment (which is one of the more intense segments of the original film) and replacing it with general fluff the pacing suffers a bit.
The biggest problem with The Grudge is its general whitewashing. I get it. They wanted to make a japanese movie that was more appealing to a western audience. Sure, that makes sense, but when the rubber meets the road that means they had someone whose job was dedicated to figuring out which actors to replace with white people. Also, the film is still set in Tokyo, and the general sense of place makes no sense with a gaggle of Americans running around speaking English and not even trying to learn Japanese. If you’re gonna remake it, just set it somewhere that makes sense for the characters you’re writing. It really shouldn’t be that difficult.
Story: 6 - The story is tighter, and that’s a good thing, but it’s still just a copy of the original. The points it gains in the slight reimagining of the story are outshined by the fact that we’ve seen about 90% of this movie before.
World-Building / Immersion: 6.5 - J-Horror to me is one of the most immersive subgenres. There’s something about the sleuthing usually included in the plot for the characters to comprehend their situation that is intriguing and compelling. That being said, this movie loses a lot of points in the world-building category by throwing a bunch of American actors into suburban Tokyo for virtually no reason.
Scare-Factor: 8 - I already knocked the movie for copying the original in the Story category. This movie scared the tar out of me when I saw it as a teenager, and it mostly still loves up to that hype. There’s some goofy effects intertwined with some of the scares that hamper this category a little bit, but on balance it’s still a terrifying film.
Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 6.5 - Certainly an improvement over the original, but still pretty hinky at points. There’s some corn syrup blood in the Yoko scene. The ghosts still just looked like they were dipped by their heels in powdered sugar. The smoke monster still looks exactly like a smoke monster from the early 2000s. Again, good in general, but has some notable issues.
Overall: 6.5 - As this movie is tailor made for the western market the barrier to entry here is generally lower than in Ju-On. That can be a boon for horror fans who want to see the story, but don’t want to go down the foreign film road. I will continue to recommend this to friends and family alike who are looking for a good spooky ghost story.