The Grudge Movie Review: Awkward genre entry and weak brand exercise

The ochre tint that brings the grime. Gore seems galore. R from the MPAA. The “R” in the title is reddened. What a campaign to prove that everything will crumble in the face of Takashi Shimizu’s (two for-U.S.) works.

Despite all the lingering and upfronting of wriggling maggots, rotten flesh and broken bones, Nicolas Pesce’s Grudge can’t court suspense like the 2004 and 2006 films did, and it’s worth reminding that the horror happenings in those are just hints and glimpses to meet PG-13’s needs. The ineffectiveness highlights the crack in the vision that is to marry the Saekis’ curse with a more mature sheen, to interpret the rage in the literal and traditional sense when the ground it is let loose in is more receptive to supernatural and less-conventional workings. Shimizu understands this, and so his films — original or remake — have a reason to be and the ability to genuinely unsettle our perspectives.

The ineffectiveness also means that Grudge’s execution of its vision is a faulty one — or at least underdone. The “boo!”s on screen prove that Pesce hasn’t seen the points of difference that an elevated rating can bring to the Ju-On mold, or that he has but they don’t benefit the picture. We have a curse of Eastern origins that has those touched by it doing really cursed-Western things like looking all zombified and Annabelle-sprinting to victims. And if the death rattle is the link to Kayako, it has the emphasis of background noise at key moments. It can be a struggle to believe that Grudge is the latest work from Pesce of the twisted Piercing and the disturbing The Eyes of My Mother; there is still the nastiness, sure, but not the purpose. One has to wonder: Did Pesce get to do what he wanted with Grudge? Or is every move to do so is met with a countermove from above, which might explain the semi-choppy editing? Is there truly an attempt to do inject newness with the curse here, or is this a disposable attempt to keep the rights alive and, maybe or maybe not, a budding filmmaker has been fooled?

But let’s hold off on that investigation, since the one in Grudge deserves more of your attention. For its fumbles as a horror, the film claims one win being a procedural: The 44 Rayburn Drive murders that Det. Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough) is looking into are elementary in nature, but the presence of jumbled timelines — 2004, 2005 and 2006 — and multiple perspectives — the Landers (Tara Westwood, Dave Brown and Zoe Fish), the Spencers (Betty Gilpin and John Cho) and the Mathesons (Lin Shaye and Frankie Faison) will require some reassembly. While there’s more fun sorting out when is when in the past films, there’s more logic here as the initially slow-burn investigative aspect justifies all the ping-ponging. Every performer in Grudge is convincing being, or on the verge of being, husks when encountering the curse (especially Riseborough who pointedly settles Muldoon half-a-toe away from losing balance), though appreciation for them is short-lived when coming to the fore is another low-wattage scare or a spoon-feeding of the scourge’s mechanics doubling as a “retread-to-reboot” attempt.

Oh, look, more “r”s — and more reasons to believe that this Grudge is an undo disguised as newness (or in this case, a sidequel). It tends to happen when Western-based parties show eagerness to see the foreign IPs they’ve bought in action again after they have lost sight of why the IPs are worth buying in the first place. Was it this that prompted producer Taka Ichise to sue the producers in July 2018? Who knows! Either way, the damage is done and presented here. Here’s to Pesce finding a big break more respectful to his skills next time. Here’s to Shimizu and his Grudges for remaining steadfast while the muck washes over.


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