"When someone dies in the grip of a powerful rage, a curse is left behind. It never forgets. It never forgives." What it does get is a movie deal.
Director Takashi Shimizu has made multiple versions -- television, direct-to-video and theatrical -- of his supernatural horror flick, Ju-On: The Grudge, in his native Japan. But you know how cursed grudges are -- they never forget, or forgive -- so now Shimizu delivers The Grudge, an American remake and, for those keeping track, the fifth iteration of his curse ... uh ... thriller.
An American exchange student in Tokyo, Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar), visits a well-to-do home on a mission of mercy and finds freaky stuff: a catatonic woman and crumpled newspaper scattered everywhere. A weird noise leads her upstairs, where she discovers a raccoon-eyed, hissing child locked in a closet. Then, we have some flashbacks where other people enter the home, are lured into upstairs rooms where they too are confronted by supernaturally disgruntled inhabitants.
The cops get involved, but detective Nakagawa (Ryo Ishibashi) is so formal and heavy it's as if he wandered in from another film. So too Bill Pullman, appearing in a subplot designed to explain all, that makes very little sense. In fact, much of the film's logic seems sketchy, and Shimizu's story is mostly a frame to hang a bit of mood on and a place to bury plenty of cheap jump-out scares.
In this regard, the audience found more to laugh about than squeal over. With numbing frequency, we watch people go into the house, hear a strange noise, open a door -- and BOO! there's a watery freak! (The half-corporal beings look like leftovers from a Marilyn Manson roadshow.) Gellar as our gal in trouble is simply lightweight. Her job is to open her eyes wide and emit little mewls of shock. For this, I suppose, she is adequate.
There are flashes of style in The Grudge and inklings of promise. The bright clean lines of a traditional Japanese home, with its warren of cubbyholes, are a welcome respite from the traditional Western haunted house, all cluttered, dark and visually foreboding. But the non-linear construction of the mystery would be more effective if it delivered a better story. And the use of water, appliances, wet hair and bug-eyed kids as scare devices would have been fresher before we all saw The Ring (Shimizu was a protégé of the Japanese Ringu crew).
The Grudge is dressed up in a bit of contemporary Asian trappings, but it's ultimately the same old don't-go-in-the-closet/bathroom/attic, jump-out B-movie. But, I bear no hard grudge: I can forgive Shimizu for this misstep, and I'll have forgotten much of it by tomorrow.