The latest in an ever growing line of remakes of Japanese horror films is a rather underachieving effort that doesn’t measure up to previous attempts. This ghost story is long on eerie atmosphere and mood, but falls short in delivering a script that engages the audience. “The Grudge” is a passable spooky tale, but one that’s not good enough to warrant a trek to your local multiplex.
The titular grudge speaks of an evil contagion borne of a person dying violently in a state of rage. Anyone who comes in contact with this curse perishes, while the curse itself continues to spread unchecked like a hellish virus. When an exchange student (Sarah Michelle Gellar) working as a social worker enters the cursed house, she unwittingly gets sucked into the circle of violence and death. As more and more people suffer gruesome fates around her, the student delves into the history of the house and the tragic fate that befell its previous occupants. But as she comes closer to solving the mystery, her time is running out, because the deadly grudge is moving in to claim her as well.
Columbia Pictures made a good decision to get the director of the Japanese version to take the reins of the American remake. Takashi Shimizu, the creator and writer/director of four previous installments in the “Juon” franchise, expertly builds tension and suspense, and keeps the audience at the edge of their seat for the majority of the movie. He also infuses the film with a gloomy atmosphere, enhancing the feelings of dread and foreboding, and is smart enough to rely more on sudden jolts for scares instead of gore effects. There are some disturbing images, but most of the grotesqueries are done off screen, where the audience can use their imagination to fear the worst.
The screenplay by Stephen Susco is a fairly intriguing effort, and it never reveals its hand right away, but rather shows you its cards one at a time to keep you guessing. Unfortunately, it’s also too slow, and the drought of information tends to make the film a little hard to follow if you haven’t seen the original Japanese films. By the time all is revealed, it almost doesn’t seem worth the wait. The ending is also a bit anti-climactic; it may set up a potential sequel, but it doesn’t resolve everything we’ve just witnessed.
The cast, though good, seems to have little to do. Ted Raimi (brother of producer Sam Raimi of the “Evil Dead” and “Spiderman” films) is good as the head of the social worker agency, but his part seems too brief to really make much of an impact on the film. As a doomed tenant of the house, Clea Duvall delivers an understated performance, but since she’s not in the film a great deal, her character doesn’t really matter in the large scheme of things. Bill Pullman’s performance amounts to a glorified cameo, and it’s easy to forget he was in even the film.
The only standout is Sarah Michelle Gellar as the social worker sucked into a vortex of hatred and evil. Gellar (fresh from battling supernatural evil in the long-running “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” TV show) convincingly projects the image of a frightened and bewildered character trying to cope with forces she can’t understand. The score by horror veteran Christopher Young is well done, adding to the creepy aura.
Despite a promising cast and director, “The Grudge” falls short of its mark of being an effective horror film. It simply feels too drawn out, and waits too long to provide the audience with necessary plot details. “The Grudge” is best as a Friday night rental, and is not quite worth driving to your local theater and paying a full price ticket.
Takashi Shimizu (director) / Takashi Shimizu, Stephen Susco (screenplay)
CAST: Sarah Michelle Gellar …. Kare Davis
Clea DuVall …. Jennifer Williams
KaDee Strickland …. Susan Williams
Bill Pullman …. Peter
Ted Raimi …. Alex