**** (out of 5)
October 22, 2004
Sarah Michelle Gellar as KAREN
Jason Behr as DOUG
Clea DuVall as JENNIFER WILLIAMS
William Mapother as MATTHEW WILLIAMS
KaDee Strickland as SUSAN WILLIAMS
Bill Pullman as PETER
Studio: Sony Pictures
Directed by: Takashi Shimizu
BY KEVIN CARR
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“The Grudge” is the latest Japanese import horror movie, riding the wave that “The Ring” made two years ago. In this case, Takashi Shimizu, the original Japanese director is at the helm for the American remake, and that is what really saves this film.
I remember when I first saw the trailer for “The Grudge,” I thought it would stink. The whole premise seemed overdone – that a curse is left over after someone dies in a rage. However, after seeing how it fits in the film, this overdramatic explanation actually makes sense. While this is nothing more than the standard explanation of how ghosts come about, it’s told from a Japanese point of view.
There is something cultural about these movies that add a new freshness to American horror. Over the years, Americans’ desire for camp or happy endings tend to mar some otherwise snappy thrillers. However, there’s a hopelessness that hangs over these Japanese thrillers, and it’s strangely refreshing.
Bottom line, “The Grudge” would have been ruined in the hands of a typical Hollywood American director. Instead, it retains the eerie surrealism and sublime creepiness that is only found in Japanese films. Sure, there are aspects of the American horror movie that still permeate it – not the least of which is a forgettable co-ed-in-trouble performance by Sarah Michelle Gellar. But it’s a fun ride even when you know what’s going to happen.
Karen (Gellar) is an exchange student in Tokyo. Working as a caregiver, she is assigned an American family as a substitute for another girl who has mysteriously disappeared. Upon reaching the house, she finds a creepy little kid hiding in the attic, whom we all know is EVIL. However, when ghosts start bleeding out of the ceiling, Karen also know she’s in trouble.
After his success with the “Spider-Man” movies, Sam Raimi is starting to attach his name to films in a prominent executive producer position. For long-time Raimi fan, it’s nice to see him throwing his support to his horror roots. Sure, Raimi is now more known for the superhero genre, geeks like me remember his work on the “Evil Dead” films. At least his involvement means that his brother Ted will continue to work in the industry.
Gellar isn’t the strongest actor in the bunch, but at least it looks like she put some weight on her skeletal frame we last saw in the awful “Scooby Doo 2.” But still, she’s starting to show some age. Better performances are given by Bill Pullman, several of the Japanese stars and even KaDee Strickland, who shows vast improvement from her role in this year’s “Anacondas.”
The key to “The Grudge” is that it allows cliches to be played out in order to add comic relief. There’s one particular scene in which a pretty white girl (Strickland) is being stalked by the ghost, and it’s so clear what’s going to happen. You know she’s toast. And she falls for every trick in the book. But instead of trying to make a joke out of this, the film plays it out with deadly seriousness. Sure, it’s hilarious to watch, and also pretty scary.
There are elements to “The Grudge” that will remind folks of “The Ring.” There’s a scene with a haunted videotape. There’s some creepy moments on the phone. And one of the ghosts looks like it’s the girl from the well reprising her role from “The Ring.” However, just as “The Grudge” starts to go down these paths, it switches things up enough to keep the movie fresh.
The imagery in “The Grudge” is incredibly effective. The two ghosts – the woman and the young boy – have relatively simple make-up jobs. While the woman has the look of the girl from “The Ring” (but how many different ways can you do a water-logged corpse with long, stringy hair), the young boy is a real object of fear. While most American horror films focus on little girls, as was the case in “The Exorcist,” “Audrey Rose” and “The Shining,” the Japanese have a fascination with the fall from innocence of a young boy. He’s the bait that lures many of the victims to their doom.