the grudge | takashi shimizu | stephen susco | sarah michelle gellar | jason behr | clea duvall | mystery | thriller | united states | japan | ghost | haunted house | curse | remake | grace zabriskie | bill pullman | ted raimi | ryo ishibashi | takako fuji | yuya ozeki
Film: The Grudge
Director: Takashi Shimizu
Writer: Stephen Susco
Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr and Clea DuVall
This film I remember seeing for the first time not too long after seeing the American remake of The Ring. This one did throw me off a bit due to the story being told out of order, but it made me feel uncomfortable. Since then, I’ve seen this one a handful of times throughout the years and have seen the original Japanese version along with all of its sequels. I am coming back to this as I haven’t seen this one in some time, but it did fall into the Podcast Under the Stairs Summer Challenge Series as I’m still working through that list. The synopsis here is an American nurse living and working in Tokyo is exposed to a mysterious supernatural curse, one that locks a person in a powerful rage before claiming their life and spreading to another victim.
As the synopsis states, we’re in Japan. We are in the apartment of Peter (Bill Pullman) and his wife Maria (Rosa Blasi). He is out on the balcony and looks troubled. Maria wakes up and asks what he’s doing. He doesn’t respond, instead he slides over top of the railing falling to his death.
We then shift to a woman of Yoko (Yôko Maki) as she makes her way to a house that she helps out in. There is an old woman who doesn’t talk much of Emma (Grace Zabriskie). We learn that she has dementia and needs to have round the clock care. While Yoko is cleaning up the house, she goes upstairs to find Kayako (Takako Fuji). She is making a weird sound and pulls Yoko up before we cut away
It then takes us to an apartment shared by Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Doug (Jason Behr). He is up trying to look for clean shirt to go to class. She wakes up to help him. We learn that doesn’t have class today, but she has to pick up a book from a care center she volunteers at. As she stops in, her supervisor of Alex (Ted Raimi) asks if she can fill in for Yoko. She will check in on her patient as her first solo visit. Yoko didn’t show up today for work.
The house she goes to is that of Emma. Karen finds the house tore up much like Yoko did. Emma is lying by her bed where we see she urinated. Karen cleans her and the rest of the house. Upstairs she finds the closest door is taped shut. She hears noises inside and clears it away. Inside is a little boy named Toshio (Yuya Ozeki). Karen calls Alex to report everything she’s encountered. When she goes back to Emma’s room, she is talking to someone. When Karen asks about it and she states she just wants her to leave her alone. That is when something comes from the corner of the ceiling, terrifying them both.
From here, the movie starts to fill in the events that got us here. This includes meeting Emma’s son of Matthew (William Mapother) and his wife of Jennifer (Clea DuVall). They’re moving here for Matthew’s work and Emma will be staying with him. Also there is Susan (KaDee Strickland) who is Matthew’s sister. We see as they’re looking at the house there isn’t something right. They don’t necessarily completely understand and move in. Weird things start to happen to them. We also see a detective, Nakagawa (Ryo Ishibashi) as he tries to piece together what is happening. He knows the history of the house, but as a detective, he can’t believe it is supernatural. It becomes a nightmare for all those who encounter this cursed house.
That's where I'm going to leave my recap and I'll shift this over to my thoughts on what this version does. I've already said that I saw this early into the ghostly J-horror movies and I really liked it. The last time I saw this movie, my rating went down a bit as I do think the actual Japanese takes are better. This one does have in its favor that the director is Takashi Shimizu, the writer and director of the original. I've come back up on this one for the following reasons.
The first thing would be I like that this is still set in Tokyo. We have these Americans as the main characters to bring that audience in. This movie also plays on the idea of them being outsiders. Karen needs to ask directions and after being helped, we see the mother that she talks to hiding her daughter from her. We also get where Jennifer isn't enjoying her time here. None of them know the history of the house that the curse is in so that helps as well.
That is where I want to take it next. The movie does have the title card in the beginning explaining what ju-on is. Where I think this movie has a bit of a misstep is not giving us a bit more of Toshio, Kayako or Takeo (Takashi Matusyama). We know how Kayako plays into things here with Peter. We also know what Takeo did. It is a bold move by Shimizu to not explain what a Japanese audience would recognize as normal haunting elements in their country. I get along fine seeing this since I have seen Ju-on: The Curse, its sequel, along with the first remake of Ju-on: The Grudge along with the sequel there. Many Americans might not know this comes from this mythology. I also think most audience members would care as much as I do.
Last thing with the story that I want to delve into would be that of Nakagawa. He is a detective, but I also like that he is willing to entertain the idea of the supernatural. Part of this could be that he is Japanese. As an American though, I'm used to the police not believing and many times it works to the story. I like here that it is breaking the norm though. He was also friends with the officers that worked the original case so he did get to see what happened there as well.
I'll shift this over next to the acting. I really like Gellar's performance in this movie. I'll admit, I have a crush on her, but she also plays this out of place young woman very well. She has a good heart, wants to help those around her and is just nice all around. She fits the role very well. I think that Behr is fine as her counterpart. Mapother is solid along with DuVall. Strickland has one of the creepier sequences in the movie and her fear is quite believable. Ishibashi is good in his role as the detective. I'm glad that they got Ozeki and Fuji for their roles here. The latter is so creepy and pretty much always plays the role of Kayako. I also thought the cameos by Zabriskie, Pullman, Raimi and the rest rounded this out for what was needed.
Then there would be the effects. The practical effects are good. We get a bit of blood here that looks real. The make-up that they do with Toshio and Kayako is really good. Once again the latter is very creepy here with the look on her face. How she moves really helps as well. This version does have some CGI, but I'll be honest, it worked for me. I didn't have any issues there and I was pleasantly surprised. There is also the cinematography which was well done on top of that.
The last thing would be the sound design. The use of the creepy sound of Kayako works for me. I know that it is recording a comb, but it is effective. I don't believe this version explains why she makes that noise which is a safe. Toshio making noises like a cat is also quite creepy on top of that. The soundtrack aside from that fit for what was needed and does help to set the mood for sure.
In conclusion, this movie I feel I unjustly came down on trying to defend the original where this is just a different take and incorporating different elements. That isn't to say that everything works. There are some things that I think are left out that could really help this movie in my opinion. The acting is good and the effects, both practical and CGI, work in the movies favor. I'd also say that the sound design and the soundtrack help to set the mood with making this movie creepier. I'd say this movie is a good movie overall, just lacking some elements for me to go higher.
My Rating: 8 out of 10