Neil Young’s Film Lounge – The Grudge



USA (USA-Jap) 2004 : SHIMUZU Takashi : 96 mins approx

Just as Miramax tried to boost interest in Zhang Yimou’s tricky-sell Hero by telling us it was “presented” by Quentin Tarantino, Spider-Man auteur Sam Raimi mysteriously “presents” this remake of 2002’s Ju-On – The Grudge. He’s credited as “Executive Producer” which may or may not mean that Raimi bought the remake rights then passed them on – to Ju-On‘s own director Shimizu, as it happens. The idea of a foreign-language hit being remade in English by the same director fell into immediate disfavour with George Sluizer’s notorious 1993 The Vanishing (which travestied his own 1988 Spoorloos). But if anyone should know how to handle this material, however, it’s definitely Shimizu – this is the fifth film he’s made about the Ju-On story, of which the one shown in the UK as Ju-On – The Grudge was the third (the first two were video-only).

There’s clearly a very complicated mythology going on here, and it’s likely that only those who have seen the whole sequence will be in anything approaching full possession of the facts. But the most engaging and original aspect of Ju-On – The Grudge and this remake is that audiences aren’t granted the kind of answers and closure they’ve come to expect from the horror genre. Even the title is a misnomer, as the films deal with a virally spreading curse, which doesn’t really fit any definition of the word “grudge”. As in Ju-On, the intrigue centres on a rather nondescript house not far from the centre of Tokyo where Something Very Violent took place. The difference with The Grudge is that many of those coming into contact with the house – and therefore the curse – are Americans who happen to be living in Tokyo.

These include Peter (Bill Pullman), whose suicide – in a kind of a trance, he tumbles over the balcony of his high-rise flat – starts the film with something of a disconcerting bang. As in Ju-On, the action then proceeds to jump back and forth in time, the focus eventually shifting to student Doug (Jason Behr) and his girlfriend Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) whose employment as a carer for the elderly brings her into contact with The House. But this happens after Peter’s suicide – the fact that Karen and Peter couldn’t have met makes The Grudge puzzling for anyone who’s seen the trailer in which the Pullman and Gellar are clearly (if briefly) shown in the same room (this a grizzled-bloke/young-babe Tokyo combo is, incidentally, light years away from the Murray-Johansson pairing in Lost In Translation).

There is an explanation – just not an especially rational one. Which is also true of The Grudge itself, which doesn’t really hold water as a coherent narrative. Shimizu isn’t especially interested in constructing a coherent narrative, however – The Grudge operates more in terms of dream illogic. Much like Ju-On, it often feels like an extended director’s showreel in which he seems to try every possible method to disorient, unsettle and scare his audience. The film is essentially a compendium of shocks, its sequences a skilfully-orchestrated series of variations on the same theme: the steady buildup of suspense, leading to a big pay-off scare involving the shocking appearance of a phantom.

While it’s likely to leave many viewers feeling somewhat short-changed, others will appreciate its refreshingly austere purity – all The Grudge wants to do is give you the willies. As such, it’s undeniably repetitive – especially to audiences familiar with the original, with Shimizu faithfully copying many of his own shots. Dispelling fears that taking Hollywood’s shilling would mean a necessary dilution, however, The Grudge adheres surprisingly closely to Ju-On in terms of execution and achievement. But in the end, it falls narrowly short of its predecessor – in a very unwise move, Shimizu dispenses of the terrific jangly-electric sound-effect that signalled Ju-On‘s big scares; and he inexplicably adds in a handful of superfluous shots (including the very final image) which too blatantly pay “homage” to Nakata Hideo’s seminal but now over-familiar Ring.

21st October, 2004
[seen 7th October : Odeon, Nuneaton : press show – Cinemadays event]

by Neil Young