Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Grudge (Unrated Extended Director's Cut)

31 Days of Horror: Day 4
"It never forgives.  It never forgets."  Is that tagline supposed to frighten me, or make me think that this is just a movie about an asshole?  Or perhaps it is a subtle ploy to get some sympathy cards?  Well, it's not working.  As part of my month of horror reviews, I wanted to contrast and compare a Japanese horror flick with its American remake.  I chose The Grudge because: A) I haven't seen Ju-On: The Grudge yet and B) I couldn't remember anything but Cat Boy from the American version.  I watched this movie when it came out on DVD with Danny O'D; I remembered him hateHATEhating the film, but couldn't remember why.  All I remembered was the general feeling of it being a crap movie.  But, unlike The Grudge, I both forget and forgive (all movies except The Doom Generation), so I gave this film another shot.
 
The Grudge begins with a foreword: "When someone dies in the grip of a powerful rage, a curse is born. The curse gathers in that place of death. Those who encounter it will be consumed by its fury."  So...it's a "curse," not a "grudge?"  We're not off to a great start, are we?
What if I told you there was ramen-sniffing later?  Is that better?
The film opens in Japan with Peter (Bill Pullman) committing suicide without saying a word of dialogue, which was both unexpected and hilarious. 
Above: America's greatest President, contemplating comedy gold
The story then cuts to Yoko (Yôko Maki), an in-home caretaker, stopping by the Williams family house to take care of an elderly patient.  When she arrives, neither Mr. or Mrs. Williams is home, which is odd, but creepy ol' Grannie Williams is, so Yoko gets to work.  Until, that is, she hears a noise upstairs.  Since this is an American horror movie and her name is Yoko, you know something bad is going to happen to her.  And it does.  She opens a closet door and is pulled into an attic, where bad things presumably happen.
At least she won't sing on the next Plastic Ono Band album
The next day, Yoko's boss (Ted Raimi) can't get her on the phone (not that she could talk, anyway) and decides to send in a substitute caretaker to make sure Yoko's patient is still alive and not rolling around in her own filth.  He chooses Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) for the job.  Karen arrives at the same house and finds the same creepy old lady, only this time the house is a bit of a mess.  Attic murder will do that to a place, I guess. After doing some preliminary cleaning up, Karen finds a little boy in the house.  He's not just any boy, though; this boy appears to be the local champion of Aggressive Staring.
This is the furthest thing I can imagine from the Care Bear Stare
Toshio (Yuya Ozeki) doesn't speak English, and of course Karen doesn't speak Japanese while living in Japan (stupid American!).  But remember that thing that yanked Yoko into the attic?  It's still in the house.  And that creepy kid?  Yeah, he only gets creepier.
This film was brought to you by the Commission to Never Adopt Asian Children
From this point forward, we follow Karen as she tries to understand the complex web of death surrounding the house.  Well, maybe it's not all that complex.  It seems like everyone who's ever been inside is vanishing.  But why?  And...Karen went inside!  Oh gosh, oh me, oh my!

Let's talk about the acting in The Grudge for a few moments.  As far as the creepy Asian grudgelings go, they were all fine.  You might recognize Takako Fuji and Yuya Ozeki as the creepy lady and Cat Boy from the original film, Ju-On: The Grudge.  They were respectably weird and unsettling, even if screen captures from their scariest scenes sometimes look like the opening to some disgusting fetish porn.
"It's so...how you say...BIG!"
Neither actor had a lot to do.  They had some weird sounds dubbed in and exaggerated facial expressions.  Fuji does a mean crab walk and Ozeki can open his mouth wide enough to make that weird cat siren noise unsettling instead of silly.  The script treats them more like walking avatars of death than actual characters, though.  Most of the actors were forced to play "normal" people that wandered cluelessly toward their death.  William Mapother and Clea DuVall, who both normally play one-note characters, were restricted to zero notes; by the time they showed up on-screen, it was obvious that they were there to be bland and increase the victim total, which they did.  I always like seeing Ted Raimi in movies, more because I know his brother is producing than thanks to any talent on Ted's part.  I was largely indifferent to KaDee Strickland's performance; her character did stupid things (what adult hides under her blanket?), but that's not Strickland's fault.
Why does the elevator have windows if they're just looking at hallways?
Jason Behr plays a theoretically important part in The Grudge, but he's hard to take seriously.  It's not just the fact that he has all the charm of a zombie squirrel, but he somehow finds a way to leave his mouth open whenever he is supposed to be conveying emotion.
Is that "abject despair" or "I forgot my keys"?
The lead in this film is, of course, Sarah Michelle Gellar.  I have nothing against Gellar usually --- she can deliver clever lines well, when they're given to her --- but she is a terrible horror actress.  Yes, she can scream, but there's more to the genre than that.  When Gellar is asked to play vulnerable characters, that requires her to show things like fear, concern, and uncertainty.  Apparently, those emotions are outside her range.
All she would need to look scared is glance at the old lady
What audiences get is a blend of "I don't get it" and "I have a concussion."

The Grudge was directed by Takashi Shimizu.  He also wrote and directed all four of the Japanese Ju-On movies before this one.  In other words, Shimizu knows his creepy Asian kids.
With all that practice, it astounds me at how boring The Grudge is.   It has possibly the worst pacing I have ever seen in a horror movie.  I can enjoy a slow-building horror flick, but it needs payoff.  All we get in this movie is a series of short stories about people looking worried, a boy with a meow instead of a voice, and somebody dies or disappears.  But the audience doesn't know or care about any of the victims and the killer has the personality of a shadow...so who are we supposed to be rooting for or against?  I also wasn't crazy for the cinematography.  In a movie that could have had some interesting camera angles providing hints or visual cues, it was shot in a very straightforward way.
Except for the rap video, of course

Before I ramble on about the many faults of The Grudge, I should point out that there are a few very good visual moments.  Both Toshio and the lady with all the hair were visually stunning.  Toshio's cat noises were definitely unique and unsettling.  The lady being under the covers, while really stupid, was definitely one of the highlights of the film, visually.  My favorite moment, though, was the fingers in Gellar's hair.
Unfortunately, not a result of punching through her face
That was a great moment, even if Gellar's acting didn't capitalize on that moment of confused terror.

I can see why some people might be frightened by The Grudge.  It's a supernatural threat that attacks you without any clear cause and it can come after you anywhere at any time.  But there are a lot better scary movies out there.  Let's look at the story.  It is told in a nonlinear fashion, so there isn't a logical build to a clear threat or showdown.  Instead, there is sequence after sequence of people entering a house and dying.  Except when they don't, in which case the weird killer ghost things follow you home or (if you're Sarah Michelle Gellar) let you live for presumably several months in fear.  Where's the scares or suspense in that?  And then there is an inexplicable time-travel/mind-reading/flashback scene where past events are shown in not-cliche-at-all grainy black-and-white.  This is the scene where the dastardly secret of this film is supposed to be explained, and the best way to do that is by having Sarah Michelle Gellar warp time and space?  I would have been fine with that (maybe) if the reveal was interesting at all.  But it's not.  No shit, some people got murdered in the house --- we've known that for a damn hour!
But did you know it caused GHOST CRAWLING?!?
Maybe the filmmakers thought that the Bill Pullman subplot was the thing to truly hook audiences: "Remember that guy we killed in the opening scene and have barely referenced since?  Let's tie him into an unemotional climax!"  The Grudge is a film that wants to make you afraid to be alone (which apparently happens all the time in urban Japan), but all it has to offer is a bogeyman.  There is very little gore, zero suspense, and a nonsensical plot that ensures that you don't give a crap about the fate of anyone in the movie.
That is the expression I had on my face for this whole movie
The Grudge is a bad, dull movie.  It only narrowly avoided actively pissing me off, and that was simply because I just can't gather up enough hate to overcome my indifference.  Watching this is really making me dread watching the Japanese version.

4 comments:

  1. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, I watched this pile of shit as well with y'all AND I hatHATEhated it as much as anyone else in the room. If you recall, the only saving grace was us saying things like, "It is almost as if someone has a... grudge with her."

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    1. HA! I didn't remember that until just now! Man, I wish I had remembered that line when I re-watched it. I substituted it with "You got GRUDGED," but it really isn't the same...

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  2. dude u are just a bad critic. it was a pretty good movie

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    1. Agreed. This movie did what suspense/horror movies are supposed to do.

      Specifically, the critic's comment about "very little gore" made me chuckle. So, a movie is scary because there's a lot of gore in it? I don't find any of the Saw movies, for instance, terribly frightening at all. I think they're all poor horror films for the most part. This movie visually shocked the viewer and has some great startling moments that make it a good horror/suspense movie to watch.

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