Ju-on: The Grudge (2003) Movie Review

Any adventurous moviegoer looking for a good scare will find exactly that in “Ju-on: The Grudge”. And those who say Japanese horror cinema is past its peak will find a harsh rebuke. Well-crafted, stylish, and scary, “Ju-on” manages to frighten with surprisingly little bloodshed. It’s a haunted house story taken to the next level, and a beautifully photographed one at that.

The “grudge” referred to in the film’s title is more accurately a curse, created by someone who has died a violent and premature death. In the movie, the curse was born when a jealous husband killed his entire family, believing his child was not really his and that his wife loved another man. The house became a contagion of evil, infecting anyone who entered it. As in previous installments, the film is divided into an anthology, with the audience watching the curse spread to new characters with each separate story. Possibly the most memorable of the bunch is the tale of a young social worker sent to visit an elderly lady. The young woman is shocked to find the elderly lady in a traumatized state, alone, and the house in disarray. While trying to clean up for her, the social worker encounters ghosts and learns of the true nature of the house.

Takashi Shimizu, the sole “voice” of the “Ju-on” movies (there have been 4 so far, including two shot-on-video versions in 2000), does another excellent directing job, endowing the film with a nightmarish aura that looms over every scene. He takes the audience on a terror-filled roller coaster ride and manages the impressive feat of doing so without blood or gore. Shimizu also gives the film a surreal quality, as if everything that happened in the house was part of someone’s bizarre dream.

Unfortunately Shimizu is not quiet as successful with the screenplay. While “Ju-on” has an imaginative premise, the writing has a disjointed feel that makes viewing the film somewhat confusing. It can be hard to tell in what chronological order the stories are taking place, and how they fit into the overall scheme of the film. Occasionally some plot points seem to have been skimmed over and some story details too briefly mentioned. For those that need a linear narrative while they’re being frightened, the film could be difficult to follow.

But problems like that can be forgiven if the film has style to burn, and “Ju-on” has ample helpings of that. The cinematography by Tokusho Kikumura is bleak and beautiful, and always gives the impression that terror lurks behind every corner. Production design is also exquisite, making the interior of the house seem foreboding, with something menacing lurking in the background. The music by Sato Shiro accentuates all the jolts and general eeriness nicely, but sadly seems to fade away in less tense scenes.

While not perfectly written, “Ju-on” is a visually enthralling and frightening film. It re-imagines the familiar haunted house story with an innovative new take on the genre. “Ju-on” isn’t just for foreign film buffs; it will appeal to anyone who wants a good scare.

Takashi Shimizu (director) / Takashi Shimizu (screenplay)
CAST: Megumi Okina …. Rika Nishina
Misaki Ito …. Hitomi Tokunaga

Buy Ju-on: The Grudge on DVD