The Grudge

2004, Movie, R, 96 mins


Most haunted-house movies make a pact with viewers: You can breathe a sigh of relief if the unfortunate folks trapped in the gloomy abode manage to get out. Not so Takashi Shimizu's seriously spooky ghost story, whose heart of darkness is an incongruously sunny, nondescript split-level in a pretty Tokyo neighborhood. Blighted by a crime whose lingering malevolence is lodged in its every splinter, the house's ju-on — a lingering supernatural grudge — poisons the life of everyone who ventures inside, no matter how much distance they put between themselves and bad-vibe central. Structured as a series of overlapping, non-chronological vignettes, the film starts with the inexplicable suicide of Tokyo-based professor Peter (Bill Pullman), then introduces fresh-faced American exchange students Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Doug (Jason Behr). He's studying architecture and she's amassing credits toward a social-work degree by volunteering at a local home health-care center whose supervisor, Alex (Ted Raimi), gives her an emergency assignment. Withdrawn, elderly Emma (Grace Zabriskie) — whose son, Matthew (William Mapother), recently transferred to the Tokyo office of a U.S. firm — needs minding, and her usual aide, Yoko (Yoko Maki), is a no-show. Karen arrives to a scene of disturbing disarray: spilled food, strewn trash, the silent, staring Emma huddled amid soiled bedclothes. As Karen tidies and tends, strange noises draw her to a taped-shut closet in an upstairs bedroom, where she discovers small, silent Toshio (Yuya Ozeki) huddled with his cat. By the time Alex can respond to Karen's freaked-out phone call, Emma is dead, the child has vanished and Karen is in a state of shock. The house's lethal ill will eventually reaches out to touch Matthew, his sister (KaDee Strickland) and his wife (Clea DuVall); Alex and the missing Yoko; a hapless security guard, and Detective Nakagawa (Ryo Ishibashi), who knows more about the situation than he lets on. Screenwriter Stephen Susco and Shimizu reconfigured not one, but three films — Shimizu's JU-ON: THE CURSE, JU-ON: THE CURSE 2 and JU-ON: THE GRUDGE — into this profoundly creepy feature, which actually betters RINGU's (1998) transformation into THE RING (2002). They cherry-pick the best bits of the JU-ON series and add Western characters, whose cultural dislocation introduces a subtle but resonant subtext without diluting the original films' fundamentally Japanese spirit. Producers Sam Raimi and Bob Tapert resisted the temptation to beef up the special effects, which remain subordinate to atmosphere, and the result is one of the flat-out creepiest films ever released by a major American studio. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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