The Grudge (Photo: Screen Gems)
★ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Nicolas Pesce
STARS Andrea Riseborough, Demian Bechir
(For a look at The 10 Best & 10 Worst Films of 2019, go here.)
For those few not in the know, CinemaScore is the outfit responsible for those letter grades assigned to new films as determined by a random selection of moviegoers in select cities. While it’s usually difficult to take the results seriously — after all, Alvin and the Chipmunks and its Squeakquel both received an “A” grade — it should be noted that The Grudge became just the 20th film since the group’s inception in 1979 to earn an “F” designation. That’s actually appropriate, since the movie itself is nothing if not a big “F you” to everyone who paid to see it.
Japanese director Takashi Shimizu’s 2003 Ju-On: The Grudge was so popular that it not only led to a number of sequels in its homeland but also inspired a stateside remake in 2004 (for those wondering, that version received a “B-” CinemaScore grade). This Yankee Grudge (also helmed by Shimizu) in turn led to a pair of sequels before the close of the 2000s, so it was only a matter of time before this franchise was belatedly dusted off and propped up for yet another entry.
The Grudge: Version 126.96.36.199 isn’t exactly a reboot, nor is it quite a sequel. It has ties to the original American edition but focuses instead on new characters. The curse remains the same: When someone dies in the grip of a powerful rage, that fury manifests itself into an evil entity that will snuff out the life of anyone it encounters. Thus, a series of interlocked storylines all end in death and destruction, with Oscar nominees Demián Bechir and Jackie Weaver and accomplished performers like Andrea Riseborough, John Cho, Frankie Faison and William Sadler among those involved.
It’s sad to see such a fine cast wasted in such a dreadful horror film that views its characters only as victims rather than actual people. The most noticeable example is in the plot involving a realtor (Cho) and his pregnant wife (Betty Gilpin) learning that their child might be born with ALD. It’s a poignant storyline that goes absolutely nowhere, ultimately blunted by the film’s mean-spirited demeanor. Horror films by nature aren’t exactly “feel-good” romps, but this one particularly relishes in its cruelty (husbands kill wives, wives kill husbands, everybody kills children). If writer-director Nicolas Pesce had been able to add a pungent atmosphere of oppressive dread — the saving grace of many a monster movie — that might have helped the uneasiness go down more smoothly, but this is basically a point-and-shoot picture, with little sense of style or imagination.
Ju-On: The Grudge remains a prime example of J-Horror, which of course stands for Japanese Horror. This Grudge represents a different sort of J-Horror — namely, Junky Horror.