If I ever move to Tokyo, there is one thing I'm going to be
sure of before I even get off the plane. I'm going to make sure
no one has ever died where I'm supposed to stay or visit. I'm
going to Web-search, hit the libraries, newspaper morgues, hire
a P.I., whatever it takes to make sure I'm moving into a death-free
zone. Then I will never go inside another building alone, ever.
That is the main lesson I got from watching The Grudge.
The other lessons I learned are that kids are creepy in any
county, and that the Japanese really have a lock on the horror
genre right now.
In 2002 we got The Ring, which is one of the best
and scariest ghost stories of the last 20 years. That film presented
us with spooky kids, a vengeful ghost, deaths o' plenty and
Naomi Watts. This year The Grudge gives us a spooky
kid, deaths o' plenty, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and some really,
really, really pissed-off ghosts.
Stephen King said what's really scary about the haunted house
story is that it happens in the home, where you're supposed
to be safe. In most other stories you can lock out all the monsters
and hide in the safety of your living room, but in a haunted
house story you are locked IN with the boogums. In most American
haunted house movies (The Amityville Horror, Poltergeist)
the ghosts want you to GET OUT, or they'll kill you. In
The Grudge, just stopping by for a visit ticks the
ghosts off to a lethal degree. Delivery restaurants in Tokyo
must go through drivers like nobody's business!
Gellar plays Karen, an exchange student living in Tokyo with
her architecture student boyfriend Doug (Jason "Roswell"
Beher). Karen is working for Alex (Ted "Joxer the
Mighty" Rami) at a Care Center to get a social service
credit for collage. She's asked to substitute for another girl
who didn't come in for work. They need her to go and check on
Emma Williams, a homebound older catatonic woman. Care to guess
why she's catatonic?
Gellar is being touted as the lead of The Grudge, but
while she does have the most screen time, the movie is really
more of an ensemble piece. The storyline goes back and forth,
weaving together the tales of Karen, her boyfriend, her boss,
the Williams family, a collage professor (a nice casting surprise
I won't ruin), a police officer, and all of their interactions
with the ghosts.
The story, told in vignettes that are placed out of order,
flashing backwards and forwards (a la Pulp Fiction), is
a bit slow. However, it's a good, creepy, tension-building slow
as we see how everything comes together.
In fact, the movie is actually more creepy than scary. Director
Shimizu really knows how to build the mood and pile on the tension.
He keeps things on the periphery, teasing you along until the
BOO pops up. Sometimes he takes it a bit too slow, but not what
you'd call Shyamalan-slow. There are a few solid scares in the
film, and almost all of them are of the ghost-pops-up variety,
but they are done very well. The really scary part of the movie
is considering the nature of the curse/grudge and its ramifications.
The ghosts are nice and disturbing. Watching the ghost crawl,
appear out of the shadows, and slide down the walls is just
chilling. Something about its face is just gripping.
Since both The Grudge and The Ring are adaptations
of Japanese originals, comparisons are going to happen. I enjoyed
both movies quite a bit, but I like The Ring better.
It's a bit more cohesive and has more scares. The Grudge
is a good movie, but it's all about mood and is not quite
as intense. But The Ring was Americanized in plot,
casting and location, while The Grudge swaps out some
of the Japanese characters for Americans living in Tokyo. That
swap actually enhances the feel of the film, adding to the characters'
sense of isolation. The movies share similarities but are different
enough to have their own creepy charms.
Few horror fans should be unsatisfied with The Grudge.
Just remember to make sure no one was ever killed at the theatre
in a tragic popcorn accident.