Nicolas Pesce’s 2020 extension of the Japanese horror franchise is maybe its most leaden, unscary entry yet.
If the recent resurgence of thoughtful American horror fare like Midsommar and Us has got you craving some crummy mid-2000s horror remakes, take a seat my friend: The Grudge is the movie for you. This particular subpar horror remake focuses on Detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough) and her son Burke (John J. Hansen), following an impactful death in the family. Their troubles are about to get only worse: they’re the protagonists of The Grudge, the newest American extension of 2002’s Ju-On: The Grudge. This means that Muldoon, while investigating a grisly murder, eventually wanders into a cursed house occupied by Faith Matheson (Lin Shaye).
This house is part of a supernatural cycle of terror born about when somebody dies in a fit of, particularly excessive rage. Once they die, they create a supernatural force that curses everyone who encounters it to visions of eerie beings before an inevitable death. Such circumstances befall Muldoon, as well as figures who star in a pair of subplots, including real estate agent Peter Spencer (John Cho) and Lorna Moody, a woman who works in the field of assisted suicide (Jacki Weaver).
Despite throwing a whole barrage of subplots and gruesome imagery at the viewer, The Grudge constantly comes up short at providing anything chilling, despite all the behind-the-scenes talent on hand. Writer/director Nicolas Pesce has helmed acclaimed titles like Piercing in the past, while producer Sam Raimi has had a solid track record with producing recent titles like Don’t Breathe and Crawl. Given all that pedigree, it’s shocking that pairing the two of them results in something so lifeless.
Scarier than any of the meek attempts at actual horror in The Grudge is the sloppy nature of its production. Gardner Gould and Ken Blackwell’s editing, for instance, is thoroughly clumsy and keeps undercutting what’s happening on-screen. How can your horror movie develop any sense of genuine tension when scenes keep ending on such awkward closing shots? Worse than the editing, though, is how Pesce’s script leans on some creaky, repetitive scares. Aside from one or two shots relying on the quietly unsettling presence of spooky figures in the background of a shot, The Grudge resides exclusively in repetitive jump-scare territory.
Eventually, the derivative attempts at horror get tediously predictable, especially since so many of the shots of creepy ghosts are done through the same shaky close-ups. Why is The Grudge under the mistaken impression that relentlessly bobbing the camera around like an energetic marionette will make un-scary visuals intrinsically frightening?
It isn’t just poor filming techniques that sink the scares: there are also no characters worth getting invested in. Pesce’s script juggles a whole slew of storylines and a dense cast, but it’s shocking how few of them are actually developed to the point that we could care about them. Riseborough’s protagonist, for example, just wanders around listening to audiotapes and evading ghosts rather than having any kind of personal connection to the paranormal antics happening around her. Her detective work ends up being incidental to the overall plot, and the fact that she and other principal characters share a common thread of grappling with deceased loved ones ends up going nowhere.
Why is The Grudge under the mistaken impression that relentlessly bobbing the camera around like an energetic marionette will make un-scary visuals intrinsically frightening?
Most baffling of all in this total mess is how many good actors like the aforementioned likes of Riseborough and Weaver are being asked to carry such thinly-sketched material. Early January horror movies usually star The Bye Bye Man, not a slew of acclaimed dramatic performers like Demián Bichir. Because none of them get actual characters to play, the shockingly star-studded cast goes to waste. Once again, Hollywood shows that it has no idea how to properly utilize John Cho.
Moviegoers looking for genuine horror should avoid The Grudge like a cursed house. How about staying home and watching Crawl? Unlike The Grudge, the only thing that bites in that movie is the crocodiles!