Directed by Takashi Shimizu, 2006, 95 minutes, starring Amber Tamblyn, Jennifer Beals, Arielle Kebbel, Teresa Palmer, and Sarah Michelle Gellar.
To judge an entire series based on one or two entries in it is unfair, but to call the Ju-on series of films a mixed bag is a bit of an understatement. Director Takashi Shimizu's early V-Cinema releases in the series are markedly of a higher quality in terms of actors and direction, even if its physical quality on film isn't up to par with later examples (although to be fair his second V-Cinema film, Ju-on 2, is only half a film, with the rest being a hackneyed "flashback" to the first). His cinema pieces, Ju-on: The Grudge, and its sequel, are hard to bet on, when his original cast and storyline from Ju-on seems to work so much more smoothly. And in terms of The Grudge, his American remake (a concept in and of itself debated in the Snowblood Apple forums as controversial, seeing as the entire Ju-on saga is considered by many to simply be Shimizu refilming the same movie, over and over again, changing only the smallest of details hither and thither), well, The Grudge is nothing to write home about.
Only three days following the release of its The Grudge in October 2004, Screen Gems let loose a press release announcing that its sequel would begin almost immediate pre-production. And while the rest of the cinematic world may have been surprised that a single opening weekend's results would demand such a response, followers of The Grudge (née Ju-on) know full well that where there is one grudge, there lies many. And then some more after that - after all, the second Japanese sequel Ju-on: The Grudge 3, as well as a second US sequel, The Grudge 3, have already been greenlit.
Being American myself, I've found it remarkably hard to understand why The Grudge, more than other foreign franchises, has been so immediately popular. It makes little sense to me, considering the story can only go so far before it appears to be stretched paper thin, and that many of the attributes of the original are taken shot for shot to its remade version. What is perhaps most head-scratching is that I watched The Grudge on opening weekend, and at the film's remarkably stale ending, the vast majority of the teenage and twenty-something audience booed the film. From that experience alone I expected not an even more elaborate expansion of this franchise, but instead a dead halt. So where does that leave The Grudge 2? Well, in keeping with the entire spectrum of Ju-on films, The Grudge 2 stands on (surprise) suitably shaky ground. But this time it isn't the actors' shortcomings. Except for Sarah Michelle Gellar, that is. Zinger! She can't act!
Trish, née Alex Owens (Jennifer Beals), has apparently left the dreamy Nick Hurley and his blue collar life for the exciting world of upper-middle class Chicago. And what a world it is! She cooks her new One True Love, Jake (Christopher Cousins) some delicious fried bacon, and he starts hassling her about her shopping and her staying away from home and otherwise is not supportive at all the way Alex Owens would've been. So she pours the hot grease on his head and knocks his ass out with the frying pan. She's a maniac, a maniac, that's for sure!
Arielle Kebbel (who I've come to love as Lindsay Forrester on the CW's Gilmore Girls) is a precocious exchange student at Generically Named High School For People Who Aren't Japanese But We Need People Who Speak English In This Film, and she longs to be friends with Vanessa (Teresa Palmer) and Miyuki (Misako Uno), which is completely beyond me as Kebbel's Allison is much prettier and well-versed than those two, and also they're bitches to her. For some reason popular English-speaking girls in Japan like to hang out in houses that were burnt out two years ago that for some reason haven't been demolished yet rather than, say, going shopping in Shibuya. Obviously you know where this is going: they take Allison there, lock her in a closet, she goes balls crazy from that boy-cat and the ghost who insists on looking more like Sadako in each successive entry into this franchise, and then she escapes at the last minute. But can she escape... THE GRUDGE? Of course not. You know this, people.
Aubrey Davis (Amber Tamblyn) is the poor unfortunate soul who has to be the sister to the wooden Karen (Gellar, even more profoundly painful an actress this time around), and is sent by her dying (but it should be noted, quite a horrible) mother to fetch Karen back. Apparently she's been locked in a hospital since the fire, and the police say she's both a) crazy, by which I mean Sarah Michelle Gellar unnecessarily gets loud when she's talking to Aubrey for no reason at all, and b) the girl who set the fire and killed her boyfriend. Karen didn't actually kill him, but technically I'm thinking she should be responsible since she did make him a part of this whole thing by being a victim for the entire previous film. Sentence: you will die in the first twenty minutes of the film, Gellar! Now go fall off the building after a suitably tedious chase through a hospital, and, suddenly, this film just got real old real quick.
Oh, the rest of the move - the stories intertwine, blah blah flashbacks blah, and it is never really explained exactly what timeline Karen and Aubrey's story exists in. Aubrey joins up with a reporter (Edison Chen), a disposable b-quality actor, and mysterious and strange doin's follow. Will they solve the mystery? Of course not. Will we get a convoluted backstory that has no bearing on the final outcome of the film from a woman who, for all accounts and purposes, probably can't speak fluent English? YOU BETTER BELIEVE IT! And did I mention flashbacks? Because the entire ending is one. For what we saw. Like an hour and a half ago. But with a twist! A stupid one.
Have I seen worse remakes? Of course, silly. It's an okay film, if this is what you like. But as cinema from a man considered the new hottest Japanese export (after Hideo Nakata's rather abysmal American film introduction in The Ring 2) goes, Takashi Shimizu really doesn't know what he's doing with this series. Disjointed, uneven, horribly retouched in post-production, the film bears every mark that it has been altered from its test screenings. In fact, after the film, I heard many of the people in attendance who'd scored tickets to this feature after being a part of the August screenings lament that all the things that were wrong with the first showing had simply been amped up in this version's package. And although it appears from those comments I heard that the ending is different, it is in no way considered better.
The editing is suitably generic, and that disappointed me because that was one of the better aspects of the first US Grudge film. What is worse is that Shimizu isn't a bad director - half of the time this film genuinely does make a good go at scaring the viewers. But the stories are weak, the connection to the three is nowhere near as understandable as it was in the previous feature, and the writer has butchered the simplicity of the "curse via haunted house" scenario. Why make it complicated, fool? Not having to think is what appealed to the more base audiences in the US, and alternately presenting the three narratives is what appealed to those that weren't so simple-minded. But by mucking up one, you've mucked up both, and ultimately created one of the most inferior horror films in American cinema since 1997's studio-butchered Event Horizon.
Amber Tamblyn, for all accounts and purposes, isn't awful. A little dramatic, yes, but it is only so noticeable because of how incompetant Sarah Michelle Gellar is (and was in The Grudge) at projecting any semblance of fear or emotion; Karen is either placid or OUT OF HER FREAKING MIND, and her range doesn't bother falling in between the two. Unfortunately, Tamblyn's downfall is her material as a girl searching for the truth about a curse that kills people who go into the house, all while deciding whether or not to actually bother going in the house (not that it matters, as her decision making skills are rendered useless since the ghosts can now pull whoever they damn well please into the House That Was Set On Fire But Still Has Incredible Structural Integrity).
The rest of the characters are sort of one-dimensional, and that's okay too, people don't come to films like this for character development. But the film, the production, just the way it feels is so uneven and unfair to the viewer. It's like the filmmaker's apathy towards coherence is borderline contemptuous to his audience. After having survived the first thousand instalments of this series, doesn't the invested viewer deserve something in return? During post-production for The Grudge 2, Shimizu was interviewed during the script-writing process of the now in pre-production The Grudge 3, and said this:
"During the script meeting, our ideas didn't go anywhere good, and we couldn't come up with anything interesting to stop the curse, so if that's the cause, I would rather just go for something that could never be stopped. But who knows, maybe something can be stopped in The Grudge."
I'm sorry, what? So all this time we're left under the impression that there is at least some idea behind the scenes of where this ship is heading, and in reality Shimizu is winging it step-by-step.
Frankly, the backstory and the "new secrets" of The Grudge 2 are cheap and boring, and won't interest most viewers any more than Sissy Spacek's Evelyn character did in The Ring 2 (why ruin the simplicity and mystery of the original story by creating elaborate and at the same time dumbed-down backstories that really add nothing?). To my knowledge, nearly every valuable and frightening scene in any of the original Japanese-language versions of the Ju-on series have been used up to the point of nauseating déja-vu on the viewer's part, and the "expansion" of the curse is in dangerous copycat territory to the cinematic genius "virus" of the Ring series.
And so this is where I say to that self-congratulating Sam Raimi: stop this madness now! This director is so much more adept outside of this series when he is given a story to run with that doesn't have such horrid limitations as this damned curse story presents him. Did you see Marebito? So cool, and bizarre, and different- and not the same thing we've seen before from y'all. My point is: if you're going to introduce a Japanese filmmaker into the Western sphere of cinema, allow him to run rampant with his ideas, and don't force him, and us, to endure a story we've already been suffocated with.
The Grudge 2 is by no means a classic, and I'm sure that its Ultra Super Director's Cut Special Addition With A Holographic Cover And A Free Ticket To The Grudge 3 will no doubt show all its alternate endings. But I don't even care at this point. Let this thing die here, guys. And maybe let screenwriter Steven Susco go with it. Not knowing what the domestic reaction for this film will be, I can't say for certain whether or not this film will do well. But I'm not so sure if audiences will continue to be so forgiving and gullible in lieu of other high quality films (thank you Walter Salles and Martin Scorsese) now sitting in the Asian remake arena.
Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment Value: 3/10
Sex: hilarious Miyuki/10
Visual Effects: bizarrely uneven and all across the spectrum, but mostly not that terrific, and the idea of hair as frightening is horrible, friends
Stereotypes: trusting student who hangs out with the wrong crowd/10
Surprises: I refuse to dignify that with a response
Boos at the grand finale: markedly fewer as it was a preview screening, but still a handful, shockingly - and yet, there will be more of this, which is unbelievable
Films In A Similar Style: Ju-on volumes one through fourteen, and then maybe the theatrical cut of The Ring 2 as well
*** Awful - avoid! ***
Discussion about this movie can be found here on our forums.
The Grudge 2 Wallpaper
please note: the actual paper does not have the Snowblood Apple logo on it.
You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]
Wallpaper credit: Alex Apple, 2006
We've tried to avoid straightforward reviews here - you can find them dotted all over the net. Try moviereviewindex.com for a good collection of links.
There are also several valuable links on the review pages for The Grudge and the various Ju-on features seen on this site, and all are likely more exciting and helpful than half of the sites set up for The Grudge 2.
http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/thegrudge2/site/ - The official site, which includes three short films, if you can navigate the pixilated site or get the faulty sound working
http://www.apple.com/trailers/sony_pictures/thegrudge2/high.html – The rather spoiler-ridden Apple trailer, but which is high quality nonetheless, and which we took our screencaps from.
http://movies.yahoo.com/movie/1809264175/trailer – Yahoo! Movies presents the short films ("Hotel," "School," and "House"), along with some clips from The Grudge 2, in high quality without the middleman
http://www.comingsoon.net/news/grudgenews.php?id=14055 – Shimizu on the set of The Grudge 2, with a little reference to The Grudge 3
http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/grudge_2/?show=all – Rotten Tomatoes seems to be short on adequate reviews, but it would appear that I'm not out of line in my thinking either- the studio seems not to have allowed the film to be seen by critics prior to its release, and I'm sure that bodes well for those that do trek to see this film of their own accord