The Grudge

on October 22, 2004 by Annlee Ellingson
In the tradition of "Ringu" (which shares producer Taka Ichise), Japanese horror has emerged as popular fodder for American remakes. Here Takashi Shimizu re-imagines the third film from his own "Ju-On" franchise, which started out as a straight-to-video series but quickly ended up in Japanese theatrical release thanks to word-of-mouth. Although the two movies are at times strikingly similar--some of Shimizu's sets and even shots are constructed exactly the same--the American version had the budget for slicker special effects and has clarified the non-linear plot for an audience that requires a more definitive resolution.

Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar, who's already battled her share of supernatural creepy-crawlies in TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and the "Scooby-Doo" franchise) is an American exchange student studying social work in Tokyo who agrees to fill in for a nurse who hasn't shown up for her shift. When she makes the house call, she finds the elderly American woman in her care catatonic in a house that is deserted and disheveled. What she discovers next is the metaphysical incarnation of the Japanese belief that when someone dies on the grip of a powerful rage, a curse is left behind, infecting anyone who comes in contact with it.

Gellar is billed as the flick's above-the-line star, but the truth is "The Grudge" is more of an ensemble piece that consists of several storylines of which she is not the center, including one featuring Bill Pullman. Shimizu retained "Ju-On's" Japanese setting but, in order to appeal to American audiences, peopled many of the main characters with American faces--a device that feels contrived even while adding an interesting thematic layer about the alienation of living abroad.

What worked about the original remains intact--that freaky-deaky signature sound effect and specters who aren't apparitions but rather corporeal, including the same ghoulish little boy who's starred in all the films. In the interest of narrative clarity, however, the filmmakers here have added an explanatory scene with a gimmick, albeit supernatural, that, while serving to solve the mystery, simply doesn't jibe stylistically with the rest of the film. Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr, William Mapother, Clea DuVall and KaDee Strickland. Directed by Takashi Shimizu. Written by Stephen Susco. Produced by Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert and Taka Ichise. A Columbia release. Horror. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, disturbing images/terror/violence, and some sensuality. Running time: 96 min

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