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By Matt De Reno
The Grudge is a well done ghost film in many respects. I found it nearly fed to the brim from the opening credits to the ending, with edge-of-your-seat, hide-behind-the-couch, cover-your-eyes type of gotcha moments. You get your buttered popcorn’s worth that is for sure!
Directed by Takashi Shimizu and staring Sarah Michelle Gellar, The Grudge is the 2004 American remake of the Japanese film Ju-on: The Grudge (directed by Shimizu as well) This film in particular is the first installment in the American horror film series The Grudge and is followed by The Grudge 2 (2006) and The Grudge 3 (2009).
The story is different than most haunted house films as it is rooted in the myth and folklore of the Japanese spirit world. As such, the principal ghost in The Grudge has extraordinary powers compared to most ho-hum American spirits. It can literally haunt you wherever you go.
From my American perspective, the setting of The Grudge is rather exotic as the story takes place in Japan. Though the “haunted house” is very modern and nothing more than a middle class house, it was neat to enjoy a different cultural take on the haunted house film.
So what is a grudge anyway? Well, The Grudge is a curse that is created when someone dies as the result of an unspeakable evil deed. The Japanese describe this as a lingering powerful rage or extreme sorrow that is manifested as a ghostly spirit, what they call Onryo. It should be noted that such spirits are typically female. Powerless in the physical world, Onryo spirits are those that have usually suffered at the hands of male lovers by either being abused, neglected, mistreated or killed. In death they become strong and powerful spirits and, eh, quite angry. Call it Post Living Syndrome! Moreover, their goal is not necessarily to seek vengeance on the person who caused their anguish but rather to punish all who encounter their rage.
The Onryo gathers in the place where that person died. In this film, the Onryo is out to punish people that visit the house where a boy named Toshio (Ozeki) and his mother Kayako (Fuji) were murdered. This makes the vengeful spirit (i.e., Onryo ) the ghost of Kayako. Those who encounter this murderous supernatural force die hideously and creatively I might add.
The cool thing is that this spirit will leave the house and follow you anywhere and I mean anywhere. Once people enter the house and the haunting spirit finds them, well, Kayako harbors a grudge against them presumably for just being there. She follows them to their jobs, apartments, wherever they go, and ultimately to their deaths. Kayako is all evil and takes no prisoners.
The evil deed that started all of this appears to stem from a professor Peter Kirk (Pullman). Kayako writes love letters about him (unbeknownst to him). Kayako’s husband Takeo discovers this and flies into a rage. He drags Kayako up to their bedroom and slashes her up with a utility knife. Then he wraps her in a plastic bag and puts her in the attic. He drowns Toshio and slits his cat’s throat. Takeo puts the body of Toshio with the cat back in the closet. Kayako’s body was found in the attic, and Takeo died on a nearby street. Now, when anyone comes to the house, they must deal with the grudge of Kayako.
Social worker Karen Davis (Gellar) is the one person who seems to have the most luck against Kayako. She is determined to defeat this spirit and does all the prerequisite research at the library to discover what started this grudge to begin with. I won’t give away the ending, but let us say that Kayako just might be the winner when all is said and done.
Some of the scenes in this film where magnificent. I loved it when The Grudge appeared on the security video tape as a vague dark shadow of a girl. All of sudden it disappears from the screen. The whole camera goes dark and the whites of her eyes flash across the video. That was creepy. This whole series of events was good from the ghost appearing in the bus window to images of Toshio appearing in the backdrop as the elevator went from floor to floor.
This film seemed to find a good balance between building tension by not showing the ghost and then delivering on our worst expectations when it was time to give The Grudge some face time—and it should be noted that Kayako was missing her lower jaw. There is a scene were Kayako crawls down the steps with a broken neck that is just freaky too. There are many such parts.
The film does have its flaws. It is at times a confusing film as it is not stitched together chronologically. There are all sorts of flashbacks and so much intermingling of subplots that is hard to keep track of what is going on. Then, as soon as you start to think about the plot, the main ghost is likely to spring out of nowhere and scare the wits out of you. Maybe that was intended? However, I didn’t get the feeling this technique was designed to amplify the scares. It sort of came across as mishandled at times.
At heart, The Grudge is geared toward teenage girls and is a screamer film. And on that high-pitched note, this movie is a commendable effort. Yes, The Grudge is a bit confusing at times, but generally the scares are non-stop, the acting is good, the story is intriguing, the special effects are first rate and well balanced with drama. Add that all up and you get one very good haunted house film.