“When someone dies in the grip of a powerful rage, a curse is born. It never forgives. It never forgets. The curse gathers in that place of death. Those who encounter it will be consumed by its fury.”
Here we go again with the American remake of the Asian classic. To be fair, The Grudge was one of the first after the great success of The Ring. There are some significant differences between this effort and the countless remakes we’ve encountered over the last decade or so. This film retained its Japanese location, which does provide for a more exotic atmosphere. The location shoots are actually pretty well done. The film was also directed by the same man who directed the Asian original, Takashi Shimizu. He’s become quite prolific in the genre, having now directed both versions and the sequels to both versions. The Grudge also doesn’t figure into the technology aspect that many of these Asian ghost stories appear to populate. The most high tech haunt here is a stainless steel bathtub. I bet that gets cold in the winter. Sarah Michelle Gellar brings in the core American audience thirsting for more Buffy. But, if you’re turning on to this film to see Buffy kick some supernatural rear, you’re better off with the Scooby Doo films. And that’s bad.
The plot is overly simple even if the execution is overly complicated. Basically you have an American nurse (Gellar) working for a care facility in Japan. She is called upon to assist with an elderly woman whose regular helper has disappeared. The woman is nearly catatonic throughout the film. As more people begin to disappear, puzzle pieces begin to fall into place to give you an idea of who these haunts are and what it is that they want … revenge, of course. By the time the film’s big reveals start to take shape, I’m not sure all that many of us really cared any longer. Shimizu must be a Supertramp fan, because he certainly knows how to Take The Long Way Home.
The cast is an effective mix of American and Japanese actors. Ted Raimi has a rather nice role as the supervisor of the care center. It’s a bigger part than Ted usually gets, and he does make the most of it hear, showing us, and perhaps his producer brother, a strong acting range. It looks like Ted doesn’t always have to be the comic relief. Television character actress Grace Zabriskie does a fine job as the zombied Emma. On the Japanese side, you have to give credit to Ryo Ishibashi as Detective Nagakawa.
The real trouble with this movie is in its pacing. There’s a lot of nothing going on, and by now we’ve grown too accustomed to the “crab walk” ghosts for them to be all that frightening. Those formulaic jump scenes just don’t seem to make anyone jump any more. There are also too many characters interwoven into what becomes an unnecessarily convoluted tale.
The Grudge is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/MPEG-4 codec. This is a very unimpressive transfer for a Blu-ray high definition presentation. While black levels were quite strong, the rest of the image just didn’t hold up to recent standards. Colors are almost always awash in a soft haze that does more than rob the film of any brilliance. There is a rather remarkably low level of detail here. I understand that much of the film’s pale look and soft picture are part of the atmosphere, but the lack of image detail makes this a poor choice to upgrade to the Blu-ray. Your DVD will look almost as good. There are even a few examples of print damage.
The Dolby TrueHD Audio track does better job than the image, but only marginally. There are some creepy surrounds. Nice little creaks and groans give us a little bit of the necessary atmosphere. The score is rather subtle but finds its way to the surface at just the right moments. The dialog isn’t as crisp or understandable as I would have liked. The soft spoken nature of the film combined with its slow pace make for an excellent sleep aid.
There are 2 Audio Commentaries. The first, on the original cut, is with a large number of cast and crew including Sam & Ted Raimi and Gellar. It’s a bit crowded. It sounds like they are attending a party, and their charged presence contrasts too much with the film itself. I just wish I had as much fun watching this film as they obviously did making it. The second is in Japanese with English subtitles and features a few of the Asian crew, including director Shimizu.
You can pick from the original cut or the unrated cut of the film. Both have been available on DVD. All of the extra features are in Standard Definition.
A Powerful Rage: (48:06) You can watch the entire feature or any of its 5 segments. The most interesting part of the presentation is the cultural discussions of shooting the Japanese subject matter as well as the experience of the cast and crew on location in Japan.
Under the Skin: (12:26) This is a short feature on the psychological impact of scary movies.
The Grudge House – An Insider’s Tour: (3:57) Just what it says. You get a quick tour of the house used in the film.
There are also Storyboards, Production Photos, and pre-conceptual sketches.
The Ring was an almost overnight success. Based on a Japanese horror film, it was “Americanized” and captured audiences with its creepy cinematography and wickedly sinister story. It was inevitable that the formula would be tried again. You would think that The Grudge has everything necessary to continue that successful story. The Grudge is based on not one but a well known series of haunted house films in Japan. Spider Man’s own Sam Raimi teams up with Buffy herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and the result is a bit short of mediocre. The first problem I had with this film is how difficult it is to follow. Shifting timelines and choppy editing make you work hard to keep up. Now, I don’t mind putting in a little effort in a movie from time to time. The serious flaw here is that it simply isn’t worth it. I never really end up caring for the characters who were in danger. What is perhaps worse, I find no sympathy or interest in what or why things are happening. When the payoff finally comes, it seems like years of your life have been wasted, and frankly I was too weary for there to be any effect. “I’m not even sure what did happen.”