Following the success of The Ring, Hollywood spent several years combing the J-horror catalogue for remakes. Most of these American J-horror remakes were, for lack of a better word, horrible. Takashi Shimizu’s The Grudge, a remake of his own Ju-On, didn’t wow critics, but got audiences into theatres. Now that Hollywood has remade just about every horror movie, we’ve moved on to remakes of remakes. Technically, Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Productions’s 2020 The Grudge isn’t a remake. It’s a mix of soft reboot and sequel, or ‘re-quel’, that exists in the same universe as prior Grudge movies. Not that anyone cared. In a rare show of unity, critics and audiences alike hated The Grudge. Though it didn’t necessarily bomb at the box office, we’re not likely to see a sequel any time soon.
After witnessing horrific events in a Japanese house, home care nurse Fiona Landers returns to her family in America. But she hasn’t come home alone. A curse born from rage has followed her. Now this curse, or ‘ju-on’, has set in motion an endless chain of tragedy. Everyone who comes into contact with the Landers’ house is similarly cursed. When young Detective Muldoon ignores her colleague’s warning and continues to investigate the seemingly unrelated incidents, she puts herself and her son in mortal danger.
The Grudge Does Too Little To Distinguish Itself From Past Movies
Early promotional material promised an intense remake. With Nicolas Pesce (Piercing) writing and directing, along with a stellar cast, The Grudge was positioned to be the first good horror movie of 2020. Yet in spite of the talent assembled, The Grudge is a listless remake that never strays far from its predecessors. Aside from re-locating the action from Japan to America, Pesce follows Ju-On’s same problematic story structure. Things bounce back and forth across multiple characters at different times. It didn’t work for Ju-On or its remake; it doesn’t work here either. We get the same basic story with different characters – people have contact with the house, bad things happen to them. Even a great cast that includes Lin Shaye, John Cho, Jacki Weaver, Andrea Riseborough (Mandy), Demian Bichir (The Nun), and Betty Gilpin (The Hunt) can’t do much when their characters’ arcs are so disjointed and similar.
Too bad The Grudge recycles the same jump scares and loud sounds for most of its runtime.
What’s particularly frustrating about The Grudge is Pesce’s reliance on lazy horror set-ups. If you’ve seen Pesce’s previous work – The Eyes of My Mother or Piercing – you know he’s a creative filmmaker with a gift for atmosphere. Too bad The Grudge recycles the same jump scares and loud sounds for most of its runtime. Though some of these scars hit their marks, The Grudge feels strangely lifeless. There’s little in the way of mood or tension, and no sense of urgency to the story. Pesce teases us with a flash of brilliance in Lin Shaye’s introduction before settling back into the same rote scares. For most of the movie, it’s a case of rinse, lather, and repeat.
A Final Act That Pulls The Grudge From The Abyss
Just as The Grudge feels like a it’s tipping into truly bad territory, Pesce shifts course in the movie’s final act. As The Grudge’s multiple stories converge, Pesce delivers on the intensity promised in the trailers. In his prior directorial efforts, Pesce exhibited an uncanny ability to contrast horrific acts with striking camera work. There’s some gruesome imagery in The Grudge’s final third, and it’s captured with some haunting cinematography. In addition, Pesce seemingly changes the movie’s tone – the last 15 minutes or so is actually quite tense and scary. And watch out for the movie’s last scene. It’s probably the best moment of the entire movie and is likely to have you wondering aloud, ‘Where was that for the first 90 minutes?’
The Grudge Delivers Too Little, Too Late
Contrary to critics’ reviews and the abysmal CinemaScore rating, The Grudge isn’t quite that bad. Why audiences and critics piled onto the movie is a little strange. To be clear, The Grudge isn’t a good movie. Nearly two-thirds of the ‘re-quel’ seems content to recycle derivative, loud jump scares. And the disjointed narrative – a problem in the original and 2004 remake – makes it feel less like a movie and more like just a series of scary images. Pesce picks things up with a genuinely disturbing, intense final act. It’s a hint at what The Grudge could have been. Unfortunately, it’s too little, too late.