"They say that when a movie dies in a powerful rage a curse is made..."
The good thing about the recent surge of Japanese horror movie imports is that they’re teaching a valuable lesson that few people know: children are frightening little creatures. Especially children with black hair who yowl like cats. I just wish The Grudge had more to offer than this valuable life lesson.The plot has several Americans (including Sarah Michelle Gellar and Bill Pullman) living in Japan for various reasons. This sets up an underdeveloped subplot of culture shock and separation from society. This could easily have been worked to the film’s advantage in creating isolation and fear. Like a horror movie sequel to Lost in Translation. Sadly, this underlying theme is dropped just as quickly as it’s brought up.
The most enjoyable part of The Grudge is how it plays creatively on running from fear. One character becomes frightened of an unknown terror outside her apartment. The young woman crawls into bed and pulls the covers over her. Everyone knows that you can’t be hurt when you have a sheet and blanket wrapped tightly over you. But what happens when your fear crawls in bed with you? The best scene involves the same woman running up a flight of stairs with the evil presence in pursuit. When the frightened woman looks up, she sees the lights above her start to go out, floor by floor. Does she run up into the darkness or face her fear? Now that’s pee your pants scary!
One area The Grudge slips is in its inconsistency with who gets dispatched by the curse and how it happens. While that's bad enough, the worst thing a horror movie can do is cheat you with its scares. Just like a drama cheating your emotions with contrived situations, if a horror movie fakes too many scares with music or visual shocks it cheapens the experience. The Grudge uses plenty of these tactics but usually has enough style to make up for it.
Where The Grudge does cheat the audience is with its storytelling. What ends up being a very simple tale is made seemingly complex by its overly fragmented telling. Instead of getting to know any of the characters, the film jumps erratically between stories and times as the audience waits for it all to tie together. This was essential to Memento and pulled off beautifully in Pulp Fiction, but the chronology jumping in those movies wasn’t to make up for a lack of story or character.Some call The Grudge a bad adaptation of the Japanese source material. This might have been a valid argument if original director Takashi Shimizu didn’t also direct the American version of the film. While it has more plot than most movies of its caliber, it doesn’t have enough to fully satisfy. There are just too many characters floating around and too little for all of them to do. Besides die.