Fifth-generation Scares 

For a horror remake, 'The Grudge' is effective enough—but not near as much as the Japanese original

For a horror remake, 'The Grudge' is effective enough—but not near as much as the Japanese original

As Japanese horror films go, Takashi Shimizu's 2003 feature Ju-On: The Grudge is sort of a plugger—not as masterfully creepy as Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Cure, and not as high-concept kicky as Hideo Nakata's original version of The Ring, but workable as a sort of opportunistic knockoff of both those films. Ostensibly about a haunted house, Ju-On (and its two straight-to-video predecessors) jumps back and forth in time to keep the audience disoriented while Shimizu cycles through a series of loosely connected scares. It's got all the usual J-horror elements: creepy kids, disturbing sound design and an unexplained evil that passes from person to person. And it has at least one provocative conceit: the horror only appears when you try to avert your eyes.

For some reason, Shimizu all but abandons the "don't look away" gimmick for his English-language remake of The Grudge, and that's not the only weird translation choice he makes. American stars Sarah Michelle Gellar and Bill Pullman take the place of the Japanese characters who first visited the haunted house and thereafter become plagued by visions of soul-stealing ghosts. But the story still takes place in Tokyo, which means that Shimizu doesn't even try to adapt the Nippo-centric themes of The Grudge—generation gap anxiety, fear of impersonal modern technology—to American culture. Counting the video versions and sequels, Shimizu has now essentially made The Grudge five times, and the copies are starting to lose some resolution.

Granted, The Grudge still does what it's supposed to do. Horror is all about sound design and screen space, and Shimizu has a firm grasp of how to use both, from the creepy guttural noises on the soundtrack to the partial close-ups that leave room for sudden encroaching shadows. But all of this is also available amply in Ju-On, which has the added zing of the exotic for American audiences. The new version gets a little juice out of the dislocation of Westerners abroad, but hardly enough. This remake is fine, but, in every sense of the word, pointless.

—Noel Murray


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