2020’s The Grudge is either a remake of the original or a sequel or a sidequel that happens at the same time but the real likelihood is that the studio wanted a brand name on top of a horror movie so they slapped on The Grudge to sell tickets. Even though it’s been over 10 years since the last North American Grudge movie and nobody probably remembers the title anyway. Heck, even the very end credits of the film attribute it as “Grudge Reboot” production which shows how uncaring this whole enterprise is. Anyway, this movie is basically a bunch of really long slow takes and jump scares over and over. The filmmakers tried to make it more edgy by adding buckets of gore which makes it seem like they’re trying too hard to be extreme. Still, there is the odd genuinely creepy moment and few solid performance bits. Basically, The Grudge is a brand name attempt to restart a horror franchise that mostly falls flat on its face.
When a grizzly crime scene is discovered, new detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough) and her partner Goodman (Demian Bichir) are led to a house where Goodman investigated a homicide years ago and he believes the house is cursed. This leads to various flashbacks of creepy doings like a crazy old lady Faith (Lin Shaye), the disturbed mother (Tara Westwood) and the unlucky real-estate agent, Peter Spencer (John Cho). They are being haunted by a ghost who met a violent end which leads to horrible results for everyone. It should be noted the motivations and history of the killer ghost is laid out more clearly in the opening title cards than in the actual film itself which is pretty amateurish.
It’s easy to confuse The Grudge with The Ring because they’re both mid–2000s horror franchises that got half–hearted reboot attempts and the repeated motif of the creepy waterlogged kid ghost following unwitting suckers around pops up in both. Annoyingly, the rules of what the ghost can or cannot do seemingly changes scene by scene. There isn’t anything wrong with the characters knowing the rules of the monster, Alien and It are two horror movies that keep changing the game of what the characters are up against, but there should be a consistent internal logic behind it. Instead, the ghost can sometimes grab people and sometimes is just a spectre that yells boo and spill goo all over the place.
Intercutting of various time periods in the house is an attempt to give The Grudge some artistry but it really only muddles what little story there is. It feels like a few short horror films cobbled together in a single package without anything really connecting them. Also the movie is set across 2004 to 2006 for no real reason whatsoever, unless it is to cram it into the continuity of the previous installments or have people use flip phones for vague thematic reasons. A significant amount of time is spent on the backstories as just about everyone is given some tragic family melodrama which adds nothing. It’s a really bad sign that at just barely 90 minutes The Grudge feels like it is stretching.
Cho is a solid actor who can sell some bits with conviction, especially when Peter has a very dark moment near the end. Shaye as the freaky old lady is definitely freaky and one of the best performance moments in the movie is when she is playing with her “imaginary friend”. William Sadler plays a cop who has been traumatized by the crime scene and he gets in some big scenery chewing insanity. Westwood as the mother who brought the spirit back to the States pops up for some intense moments at the climax as the detective relives the mother’s crimes. However, the hero seeing the evil deeds of the past randomly appearing is taken straight from The Shining.
Riseborough’s cop is supposed to be the main character but she spends most of the time just looking concerned, and Bichir’s character trait primarily seems to be that he smokes a lot. Directed by Nicolas Pesce, the film is mostly shot with a puke green filter that makes everything look sort of muddy. While long takes leading up the scare is a standard horror trick, this overdoes it. The music by the Newton Brothers is basically just the same loud screetching noise that infects most horror movies however there is a bright spot in the climax where they put together a genuinely propulsive bit of music. This is an almost entirely dour experience from beginning to end, forgetting that even horror movies should deflate the tension balloon once in a while. The closest the film gets to a joke is when the old cop selects the age inappropriate movie 48 Hours for a kid to view while his mother is busy working a case.
Despite small pieces where things get interesting The Grudge is a big whiff. Hopefully, maybe, somehow, this will stop studios from randomly dredging up old horror intellectual property names to slap on a vaguely tangentially related film to try to make greenbacks. There have been a lot of horror reboots lately but not many as middling as this Grudge. V
Director: Nicolas Pesce
Starring: Tara Westwood, Junko Bailey,
and David Lawrence Brown