GORE IN THE STORE
THE GRUDGE **
Directed by Nicolas Pesce. Starring Andrea Riseborough, Demian Bechir, John Cho. Horror, U.S. 94 mins
Released in the U.K. by Sony Pictures 24th January
Despite its flimsy premise of a "rage curse" the original straight to video JU-ON film from 2000 has gone on to maintain a healthily sized franchise that has spun off with its own American remake/sequel series and a near spoof crossover with the RINGU series in SADAKO VS KAYAKO (2016). This new entry serves as a reboot/sequel to the earlier American entries set in between the first two entries. Aside from a very brief introductory sequence set in Japan and the distinctive guttural croaking that announced Kayako's spectral and bloody presence most of the elements that made the original films so memorable are made noticeable by their absence this time around.
With Nicolas Pesce on writing and directing duties, the prospect of revisiting this particular franchise with his distinct eye is an enticing one. His first two features, the haunting and gruelling THE EYES OF MY MOTHER (2016) and the psycho-sexual, emphasis on psycho, two-hander PIERCING (2018) showed a director with a diverse visual style and handle on characterisation that showed a keen understanding of his antagonists. Sadly neither trait is on display this time around. The connection to the first American film of a supporting character, a nurse, returning to America kicks off the story here. Two years later, Detective Muldoon, Riseborough, becomes obsessed with trying to understand the bloody events that seem to spiral back to the nurse's house after her return.
While the original films played with continually shifting time structures, they did so in a concise and intelligent way. Here the conceit is clunky and confusing, leaving myself to wonder if the film ran into editing troubles or interference from studios or concerned producers. Shifting between 2004 to 2006 with next to no visual cues to remind us of when we are, the film soon loses its way in keeping the viewer entertained or even scared with its all too familiar trope of scary figures arriving onscreen to a jarring rise in volume. The decision to cast everything in a sickly yellow hue further robs the film of any distinct visual identity.
Riseborough does well with her part, despite the scripts shallow motivations for her character. She heads up a strong cast. The underwritten Damian Bechir as her detective partner, an underused William Sadler as Bechir's previous partner and John Cho and Peri Gilpin as a pair of real estate agents trying to sell the nurses now cursed home and finding themselves getting caught up in its supernatural curse. Lynn Shae, one of horror cinemas most endearing icons, is given the most to play with in terms of scares and grisly gore and walks away with the films most and indeed only memorable moment.
THE GRUDGE is a missed opportunity. It fails to take the franchise somewhere new and does nothing for Pesce's flourishing career as a horror auteur. Hopefully, Pesce's next effort will see him back on track as one of the genres more stylish and exciting directors. Fans of this particular franchise too will hopefully be better served next time as the one blink and miss it appearance of Kayako and the constant ghostly croaking are all that link it to the previous films. Take those two small elements away here, and all you have is an American ghost story with none of the intriguing mythology or atmosphere of its Japanese forebears.