GORE IN THE STORE
THE GRUDGE ***
Directed by Nicolas Pesce.
Starring Andrea Riseborough, Tara Westwood, Junko Bailey, David Lawrence Brown, Demián Bichir, Lin Shaye, John Cho.
Horror, USA, 94 mins, cert 15.
Released in the UK by Sony Home Entertainment on Digital on 18th May and DVD/Blu-ray on 1st June 2020.
As if to justify the creation of a new noun, the latest movie to bear the title THE GRUDGE is not another remake of Takashi Shimizu’s 2002 iconic J-horror JU-ON: THE GRUDGE or that movie’s 2004 American remake. Instead, Nicolas Pesce’s THE GRUDGE is apparently a ‘sidequel’ to the 2004 THE GRUDGE and its 2006 sequel THE GRUDGE 2, meaning that it takes place during the events of those two movies. Confused? You will be.
Especially as this movie isn’t shy about splashing the year that the bit of the story you are looking at takes place across the screen in big white numbers. The trouble is that you are watching a film where there are four different stories attached to the central haunted house and they are presented in a nonlinear way, quite often jumping from one to another mid-narrative in a sub-Tarantino style of storytelling that doesn’t really work. Granted, the original 2002 movie played out in a similar fashion but this entry in the series is trying to tie into the American remake and feels a bit awkward when put up against that movie’s more straightforward approach.
But what THE GRUDGE 2020 does do straightaway is put you back in the world of the 2004 movie by showing a visibly shaken Fiona Landers (Tara Westwood – A HAUNTING AT SILVER FALLS), a care assistant, leaving the cursed house of that movie and phoning her colleague (a little Easter egg if you pay attention) to inform her that she is leaving to go back to America, which won’t do her any good because, as the pre-title blurb on the screen tells us, the curse isn’t bound by location. Before she leaves, however, she is cursed by the vengeful spirit of Kayako and once back home with her husband and child things take a turn when Fiona brutally murders her family before killing herself and making sure that anybody who enters that house in the future will meet a similar fate.
Which is what happens as we are given several plot threads to follow, the main one being that of Detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough – MANDY) and her new partner Detective Goodman (Demián Bichir – THE HATEFUL EIGHT) who are called in to investigate the charred corpse of a woman found in a car on a deserted road, and this leads the pair to discover the recent history of the house at 44 Reyburn Drive and the numerous people connected to it that have died between 2004 and 2006.
Much like the detectives we get the full story in bits and pieces, all out of order and not all of it making much sense. There are numerous callbacks to the 2004/2006 movies that, when used subtly, work well but in trying to evoke those movies and make this one feel a part of that universe the filmmakers go one step too far and start throwing in things you’ve seen before for no reason other than they can. For example, take the scene in THE GRUDGE 2004 where Sarah Michelle Gellar feels Kayako’s fingers in her hair during a shower; that scene is done again but with John Cho’s character Peter instead. Why? Who knows, because it bears makes no sense within the context of his story and is merely there to say “Remember this from before? You liked it then so here it is again”.
The tone of this film is very bleak, as is to be expected, but the big-budget gloss that made the 2004 movie stand out amongst the washed-out sepia shades of the then-burgeoning torture porn trend has been neutered a little, and along with the violence that accompanies a lot of the kills it gives the movie a more brutal aesthetic which, if anything, should have been explored a bit more. It is worth noting that one of the deleted scenes in the special features shows a character being dismembered in fairly close-up grisly detail. It didn’t make the final cut, likely for that very reason of being too brutal, but perhaps a little more of that type of gore on display might have added a bit more edge to a fairly generic mainstream horror movie.
And that is essentially what THE GRUDGE is. The mystery element of the mythology is of course gone by this point in the franchise and it is expected that any characters introduced are being lined up to die – and on that level the movie doesn’t disappoint – but the filmmakers here seemed to have relied upon previous glories a little too much so that the movie offers up very little we haven’t seen before. Much like the main feature, the disc comes with a few short behind-the-scenes snippets and interviews that reveal nothing of any surprise – unless you’ve never seen an actor or director telling you their movie is unique, probably the best thing they’ve ever been involved with and fans of the older movies will be in for a surprise, blah, blah, blah... – although, as previously mentioned, the deleted scenes show a little promise as to where the thinking likely was before the editing (i.e. studio interference) process.
Overall, THE GRUDGE is a workmanlike horror movie and is exactly what you would expect a fourth (there is a largely forgotten THE GRUDGE 3 from 2009) installment in the American remake franchise to be in that it takes what worked in the previous movies and does it again, only without any of the inventiveness or momentum of those older movies. This movie has been in development hell since 2011 and has apparently gone through many changes, from total reboot, remake, sequel, etc. to eventually ending up as a familiar retread, albeit one with a strong cast, a capable director and some decent grisly effects, but somewhere along the line the story got lost amongst the predictable jump scares and token franchise references.