What if the Spirits aren't restless, just P*ssed? THE GRUDGE
May 7, 2009 (Updated May 16, 2009)
Review by Mark Vaughan
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Genuinely creepy, and a faithful translation.
Cons:Choppy. Translation from Japanese.
The Bottom Line: As remade Japanese horror movies go, this is one of the best.
The Grudge (2004) Directed by Shimizu Takishi
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When someone dies in the grip of a powerful rage... a curse is born. The curse gathers in that place of death. Those who encounter it will be consumed by its fury.
Back in 1994 the radical group Aum Shinrikyo or Aleph wanted their leader Shoko Asahara made emperor of Japan. To bring home the seriousness of their desires, they released poisonous serin gas on the Tokyo Metro Subways in a five pronged attack that left eight people dead, eighteen critical, thirty seven severe, and 984 moderately ill, and with visual problems. Over 5000 passengers were seen at emergency rooms.
These attacks had a powerful effect on the Japanese psyche; Japan had been considered to be basically free of violent crime. Now, no one felt safe.
Everyone gets that Godzilla is a metaphor for the Atomic Bomb; big, powerful, destructive, laying waste to civilizations, only stopped by great collective effort. Now horror had moved closer to home, and become less identifiable.
And that change was reflected in their cinema. Now that America has been scarred by that same terrorist any time, anywhere kind of horror (Oklahoma City Bombing, 9/11, the anthrax letters) it is natural that the same sort of movies might appeal to us as well.
The Grudge is one such movie. I especially like it, because the same director made the Japanese original, Ju-On. Often, they are remade with American directors, and much of the feel is lost. Not here.
The story starts with a bang. Peter Kirk (Bill Pullman) wakes up, steps out on his balcony and quietly levers himself over the edge and down five stories to the pavement. Needless to say, this is a bad day for his wife, who sees the whole thing.
Next we see the Williams family finding a place to stay. Matthew (William Mapother) and his wife Jen (Clea DuVall) have been transferred to Japan. His mother, Emma (Grace Zabriskie) has dementia, and requires skilled care. And that is what draws in Karen Davis (Sarah Michelle Gellar). She subs when the regular caregiver Yoko (Maki Yoko) goes missing.
There is something in the house, something that is scaring the old lady, and something that is beginning to scare Karen. She finds a closet, sealed with tape, and the sounds of a cat inside. When she opens it, she finds a little boy, Toshio (Ozeki Yuya). Her frantic calls to her administrator and the police produce some results; they do not find the child, but they find Matthew and Jen dead in the attic.
The horror is definitely the "I am going to scare you...I am just not going to tell you WHEN" variety. We see more than the heroes do, which is good, because what they see is quite enough to drive them mad.
The story unfolds like a standard ghost story; Karen, learning that Toshio was a boy who died in the house three years before, delves into the death of him and his family. She hopes if she can unravel all the secrets of what caused the death of the Sakei family, perhaps they can be laid to rest.
Here is where the Japanese Ghost story differs from the Western version. They don't care if you understand; they aren't looking for peace. You can't get rid of them.
The story is a little choppy. It is fond of the flashback without warning. You have to use clues to know when you are going back in time, like when Matthew's sister Susan (KaDee Strickland) calls, leaving a message on his phone. Considerably later, you hear that same call from her side, which places her story minutes after Karen meets Toshio. If you aren't paying attention, you can miss these things, and get confused.
There are elements that don't really add; Karen's boyfriend Doug (Jason Behr) was just eye candy. He could have been cut; as it was, he phoned in his performance. There were some things I wish they had built on, like the culture shock of all these gaijin are having in Japan. Only Clea DuVall really brought that home.
Still, at the end of the day, this movie is creepy beyond description. They make good use of classic elements of Japanese horror...the woman's hair as trademark, the use of black and white for the deceased, the audio effects; Toshio yowls like his cat, his mother, Saeki Kayako (Fuji Takako) is accompanied by an eerie resonate croaking. And being modern ghosts, they use modern technology, like cell phones and security cameras. It moves horror into the everyday, and removes hope that it will just go away...
Sort of like the threat of terrorism.
And that is why I love Asian horror. If you get the chance, check out the original, but this one is a faithful translation. And this is a great time to review it with The Grudge 3 due out May 12th.
Japanese Horror, two of my favorite things.
The Grudge 2
The Grudge 3
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