Sony // 2004 // 98 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // May 12th, 2009
It never forgives. It never forgets.
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.
Karen Davis (Sarah Michelle Gellar, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is an American foreign exchange student living in Tokyo. She works as a caregiver for an agency that assists shut-ins. Her first assignment is to visit Emma Williams (Grace Zabriskie, Twin Peaks), an elderly American expatriate. Unfortunately for Karen, Emma's house is occupied by some extremely angry and vengeful ghosts who don't take kindly to newcomers. The young woman's terrifying encounter leads her on an investigation that reveals the dark secrets of the previous occupants of the house, as well as a college professor (Bill Pullman, Independence Day) who leaped from a balcony to his death for no apparent reason.
I feel a little sorry for The Grudge. An American remake of the Japanese kowai hanashi (scary movie) Ju-on, it never escaped the shadow of the The Ring, an American remake of the J-Horror flick Ringu. Both films deliver high creep quotients, feature disturbing child ghosts, and rely on a stealthy combination of fast editing and aggressive sound design rather than blood and guts to deliver scares. After The Ring's surprising box office success, it was almost inevitable that The Grudge would feel derivative. It's too bad because, despite a third act that takes too much time revealing secrets an attentive viewer will have already figured out, there's a lot about The Grudge I like more than The Ring.
The Grudge is a collaboration between Japanese director Takashi Shimizu, who helmed the original Ju-on, and producers Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, who delivered the fiercely original and completely awesome Evil Dead trilogy. Though more conventional and less creepy than Ju-on, The Grudge has a satisfyingly convoluted, non-linear plot and plenty of suspense. As twisted as the narrative is, though, it benefits from being grounded in an extremely simple premise (people who die while angry make angry ghosts), as opposed to the silly (and now anachronistic) videotape premise at the center of The Ring. The movie has a pleasantly casual pace, but Shimizu knows how to ratchet up the tension when need be. In fact, The Grudge feels more like a good old fashioned ghost yarn than a slick Hollywood reimagining of a foreign picture. As in old school horror flicks, most of the scares are delivered through simple but effective camera tricks rather than with budget-busting make-up and effects (use of prosthetic effects is much lighter and less garish than in The Ring). As I indicated before, the flick stumbles a bit in its finale, but is otherwise a compelling supernatural mystery with a taut story, strong performances, and genuine chills -- not quite up to the standards of the original, but still worth a look by horror fans.
Shot in the flat academy ratio with a minimum of fuss, the movie's visual design pleasantly evokes the straight-forward look of American horror of the '70s and pre-slasher early '80s. The absence of flashy cinematography doesn't mean the movie's a visual bore, though. The combination of Tokyo's sleek business districts and rustic residential areas give viewers plenty of pretty sights at which to gaze. The Blu-ray presentation is solid if unspectacular. The overall look is gritty naturalism. Colors are often bland and muted. Foreground detail is strong, though the film wasn't shot with the sort of deep focus that makes for a showcase high definition presentation. Film grain is apparent throughout, though pleasing to the eye. The disc contains both the 91-minute theatrical and 98-minute director's cut versions of the movie.
Audio is far more impressive than the video. The Dolby TrueHD track is crystal clear. Surrounds are used aggressively and intelligently. LFE packs a lot of punch. This is a movie that builds it scares as much on its sounds as it sights.
In addition to the two versions of the feature, the disc contains a healthy dose of extras, all of which come from the theatrical and director's cut DVDs. There are two commentary tracks. The theatrical cut of the film is accompanied by a gang audio commentary by writer Stephen Susco, producers Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, and actors Sarah Michelle Gellar, Evan Behr, Clea Duvall, KaDee Strickland, and Ted Raimi. The track is informative and amusing. The interplay between Tapert and the Raimi brothers is particularly entertaining, though the others (especially Gellar) are full of funny stories as well. The director's cut of the film includes a commentary track by director Takashi Shimizu, producer Taka Ichise, and actress Takako Fuji. The track is in Japanese with English subtitles. It's nearly as warm and entertaining as the English-language track. There are also 15 deleted scenes with optional commentary by Shimizu (again, in Japanese with English subtitles).
There are half a dozen video features and two short films. "A Powerful Rage: Behind The Grudge" (48:06) is a 5-part making-of documentary that also delves a bit into the original Ju-on. "Under the Skin" (12:26) is a featurette in which a group of psychologists and neural scientists talk about the visceral thrill of horror movies. "The Grudge House: An Insider's Tour" (3:58) is raw video footage of a walkthrough of the haunted house set. "Sights and Sound: the Storyboard Art of Takashi Shimizu" (3:13) provides an A/B comparison between Shimizu's drawings and final shots from the film, while "Production Designer's Notebook: the Sketches of Iwao Saito" (2:26) is a similar comparison between Saito's drawings and the final sets. "Video Diaries" is two collections of raw behind-the-scenes footage shot by actresses Sarah Michelle Gellar (9:02) and KaDee Strickland (13:31). 4444444444 (2:58) and In a Corner (aka Katasumi) (3:23) are two short films directed by Shimizu that predate Ju-on but include characters that appear in that film. Finally, the disc is BD-Live enabled, though no features were yet available at the time of this writing.
All of the video features are presented in standard definition.
One can savage The Grudge for being inferior to Ju-on (it is), but taken on its own terms, it's a fine ghost tale that honors the original while taking on a distinctly Western flair that will appeal to lovers of pre-Halloween Hollywood horror. This Blu-ray edition delivers better video and audio than the original DVDs (especially audio), as well as two cuts of the movie, and lots of extras. For fans of the film, upgrading to the BD is a prime way to consolidate the two previous DVD releases into one disc. Those who demand reference-quality video from their BD platters are better off avoiding the expense of an upgrade -- The Grudge looks good on Blu-ray, but only good.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Theatrical and Unrated Versions
* Deleted Scenes
* Short Films