The Grudge

The Grudge (2020)

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When an emotional, violent crime is committed, it leaves a stain. That stain grows and festers, affecting all those who encounter it. After a woman returns from a job in Japan, a curse infects her home. It leads to a chain of horrific events and disturbing deaths. A detective will have to investigate to stop the curse and save herself from the ghosts haunting her.

January is generally considered a throw-away month for films released in theaters, especially horror films. The first horror release of January gave some horror fans hope that trend would be broken. The Grudge has a long film history beginning with the 2002 Japanese film, which spawned many sequels, and then the 2004 American remake. Now, writer and director Nicolas Pesce (Piercing, The Eyes of My Mother) has created another addition to this lucrative dynasty. Unfortunately, this latest iteration is riddled with issues. The most obvious issue is the pacing. Much like the film’s source material, the plot jumps back and forth to different periods of time beginning with the woman who brought the curse back from Japan and ending with the detective investigating it all. While audiences have seen this work, even within the frame of The Grudge films, in this version it makes the film feel like it drags. There simply isn’t enough that happens between the time jumps to keep things exciting.

For some reason, whether an artistic choice or a decision made by the producers, the film directly connects to the house fans will know from Japan. That means it also relates back to Kayako. This connection seems unnecessary in the 2020 version of The Grudge. The film ends up being a weird sequel/remake/reboot all in one. This version would have been better served to stand on its own, separate from the Japanese version. It ends up creating more confusion because there isn’t a solid mythology to build from. The first woman carried the curse back from Japan, but then it is only her ghost and the ghosts of her family we see haunting people, not the ghosts from Japan. It begs the question why the curse followed that specific woman and started a new curse in her home, but then the same thing didn’t happen to those cursed in the states. While there are many plots points that are not fully developed and various plot holes, this mythos, or lack thereof, is the most apparent.

Fans of this franchise will likely go into The Grudge expecting plenty of tension and scares. People who know me will likely know I am a huge wimp and get scared easily. If this gives any indication, I was not scared at all during the entire runtime of this film. The film relies too heavily on unearned jump scares that don’t manage to cause much jumping, and it fails to build the tension between scares as well. The Grudge also relies too much on grotesque images to attempt to elicit fear. While these practical effects to create the horrifying ghosts are beautifully done, they also come across as more of a gimmick to achieve an R rating, rather than something vital to the plot.

While the character development is lacking, the most successful aspect of The Grudge is the performances. The standout performance by far is horror fan-favorite Lin Shaye (Insidious, Room For Rent) as Faith Matheson. Faith is a woman whose physical and mental health are on a swift decline. Her interactions with the curse are somewhat unique from others, and Shaye delivers a spine-chilling performance in this role. The other two performances that are enjoyable come from John Cho (Searching, Star Trek) and Andrea Riseborough (Mandy, Oblivian). Both Cho and Riseborough do well in their respective roles, although the characters are not very well written so they come across as flat. They do the best they can with what they are given.

The Grudge lacks a solid mythos to build a terrifying story, resulting in a slow and lackluster start to 2020. Based on Pesce’s body of working leading up to this film, which consists of some great films, one can only assume he was restricted by producers. The film moves along far too slowly, fails to create the scares fans expect, and contains one plot hole after another. My one hope is that this doesn’t keep Pesce from continuing to make the kinds of films we all know he’s capable of.

OVERALL RATING: 3/10

Sadako vs. Kayako

After discovering a mysterious blank tape, Natsumi decides to watch it to see if it is really the legendary cursed tape. She soon regrets her decision when she realizes it is the real tape. Now she is cursed and the ghost, Sadako, is going to kill her in two days. She enlists the help of a college professor, a priestess, a medium, and her best friend Yuri in order to try to get rid of the curse. The medium determines the only possible way to get rid of the curse is to have it battle with another curse: the curse of Kayako in her haunted house. It is the ultimate battle between The Ring and The Grudge.

Most people have seen either the US or Japanese versions of The Grudge and The Ring. Personally, I have only ever seen the US versions, so this was my first dive into the Japanese versions of the stories and characters. The plot in general was very interesting. The film definitely focused more on the Sadako part of the story, only briefly showing the curse of Kayako before the epic final battle. Because of this, it felt like the young girl who gets cursed by Kayako was a bit of an unnecessary character. They needed her to show what happens to those who enter Kayako’s home, but I believe it was shown sufficiently in scenes of other lesser characters entering the house. The unevenness was one of my biggest issues with the film. A lot of “vs” films tend to either focus too much on one character or not even have the two entities meet to battle. Freddy vs. Jason is an example of a flawed “vs” film, but it succeeded in having a relatively even split between the two villains.

The film had an excellent mix of thrills, shocks, and laughs. There were a few moments that were very creepy, and more than once I was surprised by the level of violence that some of the deaths had. The humor was probably the most surprising to me. Even with the final battle between Sadako and Kayako, there were a lot of unexpected things that happened and things that I couldn’t help but laugh at (in a good way). Most of the laughs happened when spiritual medium Kyozo and his young blind sidekick, Tamao, were on screen. Tamao especially had some hilarious one-liners. Her blunt and honest take on what was happening added much needed humor.

The entire cast did a great job. There isn’t any person I can single out as not giving a stellar performance. While everyone was great, there were two specific standouts for me. Masanobu Andô was great as spiritual medium Kyozo. Then, of course, there was his young partner in crime, Tamao, played by Maiko Kikuchi. These two were so hilarious together. You couldn’t help but laugh every time they were on screen. The pair of them were so enjoyable that I can see there could easily be a spin-off movie made just about the two of them and their work in the supernatural field. 

Surprisingly, there were very few effects used in this film. Beyond the makeup and hair on the two ghosts, what made truly them creepy was through their acting. With Kayako, most of what makes her scary is the way she contorts her body. There were some subtle, yet effective, practical effects used for some of the kills. These scenes really surprised me with how grotesque they were without really being gory or bloody. There was one huge CGI effect at the end of the film, but there is no way they could have done it with practical effects. It also wasn’t something that stood out in a negative way, so that means the CGI was well done.

Sadako vs. Kayako is Japan’s Freddy vs. Jason. While I enjoyed Freddy vs. Jason, Sadako vs. Kayako definitely surpassed it in almost every category. This film will chill you and make you laugh in equal measure. The only real drawback is that this definitely feels more like a Sadako film featuring Kayako. Beyond that, it is still an exciting thrill ride with an ending that you won’t soon forget. This is also a film that should be experienced on the big screen. Keep an eye out to see if it is playing near you. You won’t want to miss it. Also, be sure to stay after the credits; there is a little something extra awaiting you on the other side.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10