We think Judge Patrick Naugle's dislike of this movie may be rooted in his deep, dark pedophobia.
Our review of The Grudge (Blu-Ray), published May 12th, 2009, is also available.
It never forgets.
While taking a break from making the blockbuster Spider-Man movies and trafficking endless rumors about his Evil Dead films (will there be a sequel? A remake? A vs. Freddy and Jason movie?), Sam Raimi decided to produce a seemingly endless line of horror movies (including the just theatrically released Boogeyman), starting with 2004's The Grudge. A monstrous (pun intended) hit—it raked in over $110 million at the box office—The Grudge finally makes its DVD debut to scare you silly.
Facts of the Case
It's a spooky funhouse of horrors when Sarah Michelle Geller learns that it's not only the living that can carry a Grudge. Geller plays Karen, an American nurse living and working in downtown Tokyo. When a nurse at her workplace doesn't show up one day, Karen naïvely agrees to cover her shift caring for an elderly American woman in a local residence. When Karen arrives at the house she finds the elderly lady, Emma (Grace Zabriskie, The Private Eyes), in a catatonic state and the house in shambles. Where are the owners, Emma's son Matthew (William Mapother, Suspect Zero) and his wife Jennifer (Clea DuVall, John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars)? They seem to have vanished into thin air. When Karen decides to investigate strange sounds in the house she finds a world filled with spirits and apparitions that are carrying a chip on their shoulder the size of Texas. These spirits have a "grudge" and they aren't afraid to use it!
In one of the supplements on the DVD of The Grudge, producer Sam Raimi discusses what drew him to the project. He explains to us that the director, Takashi Shimizu, made such a startlingly original film with Ju-on: The Grudge that Raimi felt it should be shared with American audiences. Thusly, Shimizu used much of the original film's cast and crew (replacing a few leads with American actors) and remade The Grudge.
I don't know, Sam—if by "original" you mean a movie that looks and feels pretty much like The Ring, then I guess you've succeeded. I have friends that saw this movie and were scared silly. My buddy Corey even went so far as to say The Grudge was one of the scariest movies he'd ever seen. I'd like to tell you that Corey is crazy and eats paint chips, but I kind of enjoyed House of the Dead, so we're about even.
The Grudge is a movie that emulates The Ring far too often—instead of having a rotted little white girl in a well, we've got pasty faced Asian children creeping around the attic. Instead of a watching a VHS tape and getting killed seven days later we've got a spooky house that'll kill you once you step inside. And instead of Naomi Watts we get Sarah Michelle Geller as the movie's requisite heroine. The similarities are obvious.
The Grudge continues a seemingly unending tradition of making horror movies without the horror. Much like The Ring, Boogeyman, and Alien vs. Predator, The Grudge feels like it may have benefited from a stronger R rating. As it stands, The Grudge is rated PG-13, and while there isn't anything inherently wrong with that rating, let's be honest: horror films have a specific audience, and while you can make a scary movie without gore and guts, isn't it just a little more fun to have that stuff in there? Then again, since The Grudge made over $100 million at the box office, I may just be talking out of my hindquarters.
So, putting aside the fact it's a pretty tame horror movie, here's the big question: is it scary? Kinda, sorta. The two main pale-faced ghosts are malevolent looking to begin with, but that wears off pretty fast. Once again, many of the scares seem to be drawn from The Ring's school of fright. You know, creepy images on videotape and icky looking kids lurking in the back blackness of the frame. What's more, the film relies heavily on formulaic horror movie clichés like people hearing strange sounds, then heading into the darkness to see what it is ("I'm alone, it's dark, and I can hear something that sounds faintly like an evil spirit trying to break through a door. I'd better check just to make sure it's not the wind").
To compound matters, the timeline of the film often shifts back and forth, making for a frustrating watch. And what, exactly, are the spirits in the house? Are they spirits? Real entities? Vapor? Mist? Little versions of Michael Jackson? I didn't have a clue. At one point a female ghost crawls along the ceiling, her black hair expanding in a swarm of evil, and all I could think was, "gee, that looks a lot like icky spaghetti." I may not have a masters degree, but I know enough to realize when you're watching a horror movie you don't want to be reminded of last night's pasta dish.
I guess when it comes to horror movies I'm just a meat and potatoes kind of guy. Give me a Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake over something as innocuous as The Grudge. Sarah Michelle Geller (notice I mentioned very little about her? That's because her role seems perfunctory) is attractive and the little boy can be creepy, but that's just not enough to sustain an hour and a half worth of mostly unoriginal scares.
The Grudge is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. If nothing else, this picture looks great. The colors and black levels (of which there are a lot of) all appear solid, bright and well defined. There is a noticeable lack of edge enhancement and any other major defects (dirt, grain, etc.) that might otherwise mar the image. Fans of the film will be happy with the way that this transfer turned out.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English and French. Not surprisingly, The Grudge features a creepy sound mix that includes spooky music and weird, eerie sounds emanating from the dead little children. All of the speakers are often engaged thoroughly, especially the front and side speakers. All aspects of the mix are free of any distortion or hiss. Also included on this disc are English, Spanish, and French subtitles.
Considering how much money this film made during its initial theatrical run, I'm somewhat surprised to find it light on supplemental features. The best of the lot is a commentary track featuring producers Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert, star Sarah Michelle Geller, and a few other nominal cast members. All in all this commentary track is just an excuse for the cast and crew to get together and laugh (if you've ever heard any of the Evil Dead commentary tracks featuring Raimi and Tapert, you'll know what to expect).
A five-part documentary titled "A Powerful Rage" ("The Birth of the Grudge"; "The Myth of Ju-On"; "Culture Shock: The American Cast in Japan"; "Designing the Grudge House"; and "A New Direction: Understanding Takashi Shimizu") includes interviews with Raimi, Geller, director Takashi Shimizu, and producer Robert Tapert, among others. This is a fine feature on the film and filmmaking as a whole—it's interesting to note how efficient the Asian film crew was and how Shimizu used the same crew from the previous film to remake it for American audiences. Also included are thoughts about the script, the actors, the casting, and locations (the set was built on the same soundstage where they filmed many Godzilla movies), and what it took to bring this vision to the screen.
Finally, there is a much shorter featurette titled "Under the Skin" that deals with our responses to fear, as well as a trailer for The Grudge and multiple other Sony films.
The Grudge was a huge hit because it had three things going for it: 1.) Sarah Michelle Geller, 2.) a teen-friendly PG-13 rating and 3.) an obvious, unspoken connection to The Ring (also a Japanese import remade for American audiences). As for this reviewer, those numbers add up to very little when the story is often incoherent and the horror elements are watered down. Sony's work on this disc, however, is better than average.
I've got a grudge with The Grudge, but you may feel differently.
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• Cast and Crew Commentary Track
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