Film Reviews


By • Oct 22nd, 2004 •

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Columbia Pictures
Running time — 90 minutes

QUOTE: Dismally lost in translation.

Ken Johnson of the Johnson and Tofte Radio Show in Las Vegas had this succinct appraisal of THE GRUDGE: “A movie that should not have been re-made in the first place puts a curse on the audience.”

It’s a pox on us.

This is a remake of a successful Japanese film, JU-ON: THE GRUDGE, that even spawned a sequel. Following the blockbuster THE RING, another Japanese thriller remade by Hollywood and starring Naomi Watts, THE GRUDGE’S writer/director Takashi Shimizu was given the unique opportunity to re-dress his hit for an American audience. Producer Sam Raimi gave Shimizu’s hit to screenwriter Stephen Susco to Americanize. You would think having the original director onboard would be a good idea. However, Shimizu had to make one important concession: Significantly, the casting of Sarah Michelle Gellar in the lead.

In the case of THE GRUDGE, the pacing is so slow and the actors so numb and uninvolved that the horror elements are lost in a fog of dullness. And, after seeing THE RING, we are not so scared of back-from-death female ghosts crawling on all fours with messy long hair hanging in their eyes.

Lo and behold! Gellar cannot act. Miraculously coasting up until now, THE GRUDGE solidifies Gellar’s status as an actress in need of acting lessons. Instead of expressing emotions, she makes amateur grimaces. She is not in touch with her character. In fact, no one is. And since, for the first half of the movie, the camera is trained on Gellar’s frozen face, this is not good. The most important expression in a horror movie – fear – is never seen. Perhaps Gellar needs a director who speaks English.

Is Karen happy in Japan? Does she like her job? What are her feelings about weird things? Is she a survivor? Is she smart or just a dumb young lady getting by in Tokyo? Gellar is out of her element here. I can now say acting in a thriller is not easy.

The movie starts off in one direction and then backtracks. People have died and we are doping out – much better than the star – what has happened. If only something interesting had happened.

Karen (Gellar) is living in Japan with her boyfriend Doug (Jason Behr). She works for a health care clinic and is finally allowed out in the field. A nurse has not called in and Karen’s boss sends her to see what is wrong. She goes to the house and finds a catatonic American woman, Emma (Grace Zabriskie). She should call the woman’s son Matthew (William Mapother) or his wife, Jennifer (Clea DuVall). Instead, when she hears weird noises in the attic, she goes to investigate. Like Emma, everyone in this movie is either demented or catatonic.

How scary is a naked kid named Toshio (Yuya Ozeki) and a noisy black cat?

Then, suddenly, Karen disappears from the movie and the story moves on to Emma’s daughter, Susan (KaDee Strickland). She is also being tracked by the same creepy vapor-ghost who kills. Apparently just entering the house makes Vapor-Ghost mad and it holds a grudge against people who visit. It must get you even if it means hunting you at work. Late at night, of course.

“When someone dies in the grip of a powerful rage, a curse is born.” Finally, the lead detective (Ryo Ishibashi) explains the whole damn thing but offers no solution. Has he ever seen this before? What’s next, Detective, or is your shift over?

It is a shame that the American cast is never integrated into Tokyo. In this regard, Karen’s involvement is neither essential nor personal. It is nice that the producers allowed Shimizu to film in Tokyo with a Japanese supporting cast, but the cultural context of “the curse” loses it’s impact.

Karen: Sarah Michelle Gellar
Doug: Jason Behr
Matthew: William Mapother
Jennifer: Clea DuVall
Susan: KaDee Strickland
Emma: Grace Zabriskie
Peter: Bill Pullman
Maria: Rosa Blasi
Alex: Ted Raimi

Director: Takashi Shimizu
Screenwriter: Stephen Susco
Based on the film “Ju-on: The Grudge” by: Takashi Shimizu
Producers: Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, Taka Ichise
Executive producers: Roy Lee, Doug Davidson, Joe Drake, Nathan Kahane, Carsten Lorenz
Co-producers: Michael Kirk, Aubrey Henderson, Shintaro Shimosawa
Director of photography: Hideo Yamamoto
Production designer: Iwao Sato
Music: Christopher Young
Costumes: Shawn Holly Cookson
Editor: Jeff Bettancourt

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