The pieces for a fresh remake of “Ju-On: The Grudge” are certainly in place. The second remake of the influential Japanese horror flick, following the 2004 American smash hit, also titled, “The Grudge”, boasts plenty of ideas to suggest an effective remake. An interesting up-and-coming indie director, an all-star cast, a change in setting and an upgraded R-rating that contains “disturbing violence and bloody images” all suggest good fortune. However, good ideas don’t always translate to a good film.
Directed by Nicolas Pesce (last year’s underrated “Piercing”), this new incarnation of “The Grudge” strives for a darker, more twisted view into the 20-year old ghost story. Following two detectives (Andrea Riseborough & Demian Bichir) investigating a series of incidents all linked to a particular house with a grim history, this “Grudge” opens in Tokyo, then quickly makes its way to a small town in the east coast. We’re no longer dealing with the spirits, Kayako and Toshio, but a new set of ghouls that haunt anyone who dare step foot in their home.
Aiming as more of a reboot than full-on remake, “The Grudge” carries on the non-linear narrative of the previous films that jumps back-and forth between time periods. Our “modern day” story is set in 2006, with Andrea Riseborough and Demian Bichir’s detectives, 2004 with John Cho and Betty Gilpin as married realtors who are selling the haunted home and finally in 2005 with Jacki Weaver as an assisted suicide aid sent to the house where an elderly couple (Lin Shaye & Frankie Faison) is dealing with the wife’s diminishing mental health. While the original “Grudge” wasn’t exactly delicate in its plotting, this new incarnation is strikingly clumsy in its narrative presentation.
Major characters will disappear from the film for large amounts of time, only to show back up for maybe 2 more minutes before they leave the film entirely. Character depth is completely dropped once the plot kicks into gear. Whatever “The Grudge” lacks in cohesive storytelling should at least be made up for in the scare department and although this new take captures the bleak, hopelessness of the original, it fails at creating any lingering chills.
Rather than crafting intricate scare sequences, made to toy with audience expectations, “The Grudge” instead strings out its jolts in expected fashion. This is the type of film that solely aims at boo-scares. To the films credit, the boo-scares are effective at going “boo”. The thing that’s popping out at you is a rather creepy figure and you can’t help but jump at whatever’s in frame, but Pesce never builds up enough atmosphere to make the creepiness impactful. The overall fright factor here is more startling than scary. The attempts at recreating iconic sequences from the original including the infamous shower scene and the security camera sequence are done slavishly with no new ideas or perspective.
One of the best things “The Grudge” has going for it is the new R-rating, which is surely earned. There’s a welcoming sadistic streak to the film that separates it from other remakes of the past. Some of the more twisted elements are legitimately shocking and earn extra points because of it. The disturbing material in the film works much better than the scares which keep things interesting as the brutal violence never fails to shock. This is perhaps the idea that gets explored most effectively.
The eye-opening cast is game enough to deliver solid work, even when their characters make the dumbest decisions. Riseborough finely plays the cliche detective, down-on-her-luck and doing the best she can to raise her young boy alone. Demian Bichir grizzles his way through the material nicely as the wise, older detective weary of what’s happening around him. Other stars such as John Cho, Betty Gilpin and Jacki Weaver all deliver strong work, respectively, but are largely wasted.
The true star of the show is screen-veteran Lin Shaye, completely hamming it up, giving the films best performance. Shaye plays Mrs. Matheson, a women suffering from terminal cancer and mentally deteriorating, which makes her the prime victim to be persuaded by the demons in her house. A far cry from her heroic role in the “Insidious” franchise, Shaye elevates the film with her gonzo performance that chews through all of the scenery. She’s clearly having fun in the role, and elevates the films scares whenever she’s involved.
Nicolas Pesce, who also wrote the film, imbues a welcoming sense of humor that never feels overwrought, but sticks out enough to make a mark. That said, he never clearly establishes the rules of the film he’s making as characters will do and say things that practically negate whatever was thought plausible. The rules in how the curse works is uneven to say the least.
“The Grudge” is a remake that has plenty of potential to redefine its franchise, but instead offers very little in originality or effective scares. The new ideas are welcoming, but most of them fail to leave a lasting imprint.