Takashi Shimizu's first U.S. retread of his spooky JU-ON films, a tangle of interlocking tales of lives haunted by the bloody karma of a nondescript Tokyo house, lifted highlights from the entire series and wove them into a coherent, nightmarish whole. But THE GRUDGE 2 falls sadly flat, spreading the action over two continents and largely unscrambling the chronology of the overlapping stories, in the process destroying the delicate mix of suspense and icy inevitability that makes the JU-ON movies so chilling.
Shimizu opens with what's clearly meant to be a jaw-dropper: In a gloomy Chicago apartment, bullying Bill (Christopher Cousins) viciously berates unhappy-looking Trish (Jennifer Beals) as she fries bacon for his breakfast; she calmly responds by pouring sizzling grease over his head and braining him with the pan, then sits down to coffee. The scene is nasty, but lacks the dark mystery of the first film's opener, in which a well-dressed middle-aged man serenely throws himself off a balcony as his horrified wife watches in helpless horror. In California, mousey Aubrey (Amber Tamblyn) is sent to Tokyo by her embittered, bedridden mother (Joanna Cassidy), charged with retrieving her sister, golden-girl Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar, star of the first GRUDGE). Karen, who was studying abroad, is accused of murdering her boyfriend and trying to burn down a house — that house. Amber sees her hospitalized sister only briefly; Karen later escapes and plunges from the roof to her death. Obsessed journalist Eason (Edison Chen) helps Amber investigate what drove Karen to insane behavior. Meanwhile, plain-Jane Allison (Arielle Kebbel), an American student at Tokyo's international high school, timidly accompanies mean girls Vanessa (Teresa Palmer) and Miyuki (Misako Uno) to a notorious haunted house. Only Allison sees vengeful spirits of Kayako (Takako Fuji, reprising the role she's played in every JU-ON/GRUDGE film) and her mewing son, Toshio (Ohga Tanaka), though all three girls are marked. And then it's back in Chicago, where Trish is moving in with widower Bill and his children, teenaged Lacey (Sarah Roemer) and 10-year-old Jake (Matthew Knight). Only Jake notices that something odd is going on in the apartment next door; he hears whimpering through the wall and sees a girl in a filthy, hooded sweatshirt wandering the hallways at night and papering over her windows. Whatever malevolence haunts her has started to spread, infecting everyone in the building. The film pulls off a couple of "gotchas!", but the subtle creepiness of its predecessors is gone, replaced by a sense of numbing predictability. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh