‘The Grudge’ wanders, has no mind of its own
Up to about the midway point “The Grudge” is a pretty creepy thriller. It invokes more than its fair share of screams and jitter-jumps, and the Japanese setting provides an intriguing backdrop. But the film fools you into thinking that its scare tactics will lead somewhere (they don’t) and that eventually a character with some measure of intelligence will surface (wrong again). Disclosing much about the movie will no doubt negate the element of surprise — so stop reading if you don’t want to be talked out of seeing “The Grudge,” otherwise you’ll hold one against your humble critic for spoiling things.
The film starts out with the apparent suicide of a college professor, the apparent murder of a Japanese welfare agent (Yoko Maki) and the introduction of her replacement Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar of TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”), who is living in Japan with her architecture student boyfriend (Jason Behr of “Roswell”).
We think Karen is going to get to the bottom of things when she starts hearing and seeing the creepy goings on at the home of her client (Grace Zabriskie), and a series of flashbacks make connection to a curse on the house and all those who have entered it.
Instead, the tease is on. It quickly becomes clear that Karen’s main purpose is just to act scared. Gellar does this well, but flashbacks serve primarily to disguise the fact that “The Grudge” is merely a series of truncated fright sketches strung together with no real rhyme or reason other than to see how many times it can spook its audience using the same technique over and over.
There is a glimmer of hope when a police detective (Ryo Ishibashi) begins to work on the case because he seems smarter and more rational than everyone else. More tease however, for his demise is as unimaginative and trivial as everyone else’s.
Also disappointing is the fact that director Takashi Shimizu has made an American adaptation of his own original film “Ju-On (The Grudge)” that never infuses a unique Japanese ambience to the proceedings.
Stylistically, “The Grudge” will draw comparisons to last year’s very successful PG-13 rated “The Ring.” Though that film had plenty of flaws of its own, it at least made an attempt at plot development and included an earnest effort by its protagonist to uncover the mystery behind the mayhem.
“The Grudge” wants no part of that kind of storytelling. It just wants to lure you up into a dark attic, alone, following the terrifying sounds that will lead you to images that will scare you into a catatonic state. It’s counting on the fact that the less you think the more you’ll fear. Exactly.
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, disturbing images/terror/violence, some sensuality.