I originally had no intention of watching “The Grudge”. I wasn’t really interested in a reboot of the 2004 Sarah Michelle Gellar remake of the 2002 original Japanese horror film from Takashi Shimizu. Still with me? But then I saw it was produced by Sam Raimi and its cast included John Cho, Andrea Riseborough, Demián Bichir, and Jackie Weaver. Those were enough names to sell me on giving it a shot.
This darker, grittier vision of the franchise comes from writer-director Nicolas Pesce who blends the obvious supernatural horror with a surprisingly engaging police procedural. It’s an endlessly bleak movie that takes an unexpected dive into grief and human suffering, not from ambivalent spirits (although we certainly get some of that) but from life itself.
Everyone we meet in the film is bearing some kind of painful, emotional burden. A widow is faced with raising her young son alone after her husband dies of cancer. A loving elderly couple struggles as one of them faces late-stage dementia. A young couple gets devastating news about their unborn child. A police detective is still haunted by an unsolved case that caused him to lose his partner. Each of these troubles are well realized by the script and through some rock-solid performances. The problem is I’m still not sure what the movie is trying to say about any of it.
As far as story, Detective Muldoon (Riseborough) and her young son arrive in Cross River, Pennsylvania hoping to make a new start. She joins the local police force and is partnered with the chain-smoking Detective Goodman (Bichir). The two are called to a patch of forest where a decomposed body is discovered in a car. Goodman believes it may be linked to a series of unsolved deaths at 44 Reyburn Drive and wants no part of the investigation. The feds take over but an inquisitive Muldoon begins digging deeper into the history of the house on Reyburn where the deaths took place.
On one hand, I quite liked the investigative aspect of the movie. Through nonlinear storytelling and numerous timeline skips we learn the stories of the people connected to 44 Reyburn Drive. It’s all framed as a part of Muldoon’s fact-finding efforts. But of course we already know the real cause of gruesome horrors. In the prologue an American businesswoman encounters a terrifying entity in Japan which she unknowingly brings back to the States. You can probably guess her home address.
I would be lying if I said I fully understood the rules behind the whole Grudge concept. Supposedly a curse is born in the place where someone is murdered out of extreme rage. Okay, many murders are committed out of rage, right? So shouldn’t these curses be in almost every city on the planet? I’m sure it’s not that simple and I’m probably missing some obvious detail, but it’s a question this movie certainly isn’t all that interested in. But I digress…
The film features some pretty freaky imagery and Pesce certainly knows how to create and manage atmosphere. But as a whole the horror element falls short thanks to a reliance on a few too many jump scares – “BOO” moments that you see coming from a mile away. Also, time is wasted on what I can only call franchise obligations. The bathtub stuff, the creepy wet-haired girl, the clacking death rattle. In nearly every instance these things feel like they are servicing the franchise instead of servicing the story.
In the end this wasn’t a wasted trip to the theater. I enjoyed the unsettling atmosphere and had fun with much of the storytelling. But here’s the thing, much of what I like about “The Grudge” is not what most people are going to that movie hoping to see. And its handful of strengths can’t quite cover its variety of flaws. It ends up being an aggressively middle of the road movie and the kind we’ve come to expect in early January.
VERDICT – 2.5 STARS