Now, Sam Raimi, a man who states that he likes most of the movies he sees, has parlayed his recent successes into the ability to get one of the four movies re-made in the United States as The Grudge starring Sarah Michelle Gellar (up horror creek without a stake), containing more imagery borrowed from Ringu and actually helmed by Shimizu Takashi the very director of Ju-On: The Grudge!
First, let me tell you why I like this movie. This isn't a re-invention of the wheel like most American Remakes of Foreign films. Instead, The Grudge maintains the original film's Japan setting and Japan casting preventing some of the non-textual extrapolation required in such remakes as The Ring. This also captures, for possibly the first time, the well-paced and calculated form of film-making traditional in the best Japanese Horror Films in a U.S. Release, especially in the film's use of flashback to fill in the blanks a frame at a time. Director Takashi Shimizu builds suspense capably and causes the hand-wringing nervousness that is needed to make the audience JUMP when what you think you see becomes what you do see. This movie isn't for the slow-witted or for the impatient!
Unfortunately, it's also not for the Top Ten List either. The issues in this movie are many fold, beginning with the most obvious... the lack of Payoff. Most American horror audiences are used to everything being spelled out for them to the point that surprises are almost arbitrary. Here, there is a welcome holding of the cards and showing only the hand Shimizu wants you to see, which might confuse a lot of viewers. Fans of Asian Horror won't be confused, though they might find themselves a bit bemused at the translation. So often the sense of creepiness fails to result in a jump, but succeeds in eliciting laughs at a few too many red herrings!
There also seems to be quite a language barrier here, as all of the actors are good, but seem to be misdirected. Gellar is good at looking scared, but doesn't equal her best as Buffy in the speaking category. Same with Roswell's Jason Behr and character actress Grace Zabriskie (Laura's Mom from Twin Peaks) who seem to be near afterthoughts and plot devices in the Stephen Susco-adapted screenplay. Cameos by Bill Pullman, Clea DuVall, William Mapother and Ted Raimi do help a lot, but ultimately add to a rather unsatisfying Ghost-Gonna-Get-You-Too whole!
The folks I saw it with left confused at much of the crossing motifs, and ultimately pretty irritated by the repetitive way that the poltergeists continued to bag each of their victims in almost the same manner every time. Me? I was impressed by the creepy effects and the escalation of the fear, but wasn't as happy with the timeline the ghosts seemed to follow. Take away the flashbacks and there's at least one helpless character that could have been done in long, long ago, except for the fact that the script required that character as a motivation device! So, I guess in the American Version if a person dies in a powerful rage they play with you like a Kitten and then grudge you to death later if the Script feels like it.
Kudos for a foreign film's transliteration maintaining some of the best elements of the source material. If only the same care was paid to the rest of the film. The last act in particular seems like the producers ran out of money. Eventually, the seed of Horror is planted, but the bud never blooms, and the audience laughs a little. Three Stars out of Five for the U.S. version of The Grudge. It's good to see Japanese Film Making in the USA, but it would be better to see a more cohesive whole next time around. See the original... hell, see all four of the originals... I'll be watching Buffy season 3 on DVD! See you in the Next Reel, Takeoooooooooooooooooooooo!
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