Studio: Screen Gems
Director: Nicolas Pesce
Writer: Nicolas Pesce, Jeff Buhler
Producer: Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, Taka Ichise
Stars: Andrea Riseborough, Demian Bichir, John Cho, Betty Gilpin, William Sadler, Frankie Faison, Tara Westwood, Dave Brown, Lin Shaye, Jacki Weaver
Kayako¡¯s curse moves from Japan to Pennsylvania as a murder house¡¯s ghosts haunt families and police detectives across three timelines.
Other than ¡°bad,¡± the dominant word I¡¯d heard used to describe 2020¡¯s ¡°The Grudge¡± was ¡°bleak.¡± Lumping together a number of social media takes as well as other published criticisms, audiences apparently found the movie¡¯s oppressively dour mood to be extremely un-fun, even as horror entertainment.
I don¡¯t know that I consider ¡°The Grudge¡± bleak so much as glum. You expect dystopian thrillers framed around apocalyptic events to feature nihilistic grimness. When a routine haunted house yarn goes this hard on hopelessness, it¡¯s just depressing, and not a necessity demanded by this sort of ghost story. If Debbie Downer were a horror movie instead of a Saturday Night Live skit, she would be ¡°The Grudge.¡±
¡°The Grudge¡± takes place nonlinearly during 2004, 2005, and 2006. Various people pop up in each timeline and every single one of them has some sort of tragedy hanging over their heads and thus, over the entire atmosphere.
It¡¯s not enough that one elderly couple deals with dementia, they¡¯re looking into assisted suicide too. Another man tries killing himself in front of a friend, but survives in a psych ward after only disfiguring his face. New to the small Pennsylvanian town of Cross River, single mother Detective Muldoon lost her husband to cancer three months ago. She has grieving in common with her new partner Detective Goodman, whose terminally ill mother also died recently. While that duo mourns their past, realtors Peter and Nina Spencer fret for the future when they find out they¡¯re pregnant with a child due to be born with a rare disease.
Weirdly worsening things are constant reminders of everyone¡¯s ongoing pain. Goodman still has oxygen tanks morosely surrounding his mother¡¯s empty deathbed, which for some reason sits in full view of his couch. Muldoon walks in on her young son frowning over the Lego set he never got to finish with his father. Even The Spencers have to drive home from their doctor¡¯s dark news in pouring rain to parallel Nina¡¯s tears.
Piling misery on top of misery is the only way ¡°The Grudge¡± goes about developing drama. You could try arguing this sadness stays consistent with what other films establish about the ¡°Ju-On¡± curse. But I can¡¯t find additional narrative value in details such as learning the little boy found his father dead besides tightening vises already constricting these characters into boxes built exclusively out of dreariness.
What¡¯s left over for a viewer to connect to outside of emotionally draining empathy? The detectives are only referred to by last names, making them more coldly impersonal than they inherently are. I don¡¯t know how the film expects anyone to care about Muldoon¡¯s kid either. His two scenes give the boy less than one minute of screen time before he becomes a mere plot device to facilitate part of the finale. A moment when Muldoon¡¯s partner keeps him occupied by playing the R-rated cop comedy ¡°48 Hours¡± could have been good for a laugh or to provide a brief bit of bonding. Instead, it¡¯s yet another ¡°why is this even included?¡± sequence of no meaningful import.
¡°The Grudge¡± isn¡¯t just a baffling buzzkill. It¡¯s also dreadfully dull. Those two strikes are all it takes to turn any horror movie into a disappointing disaster.
How do I bore thee? Let me count the clich¨¦s:
? One of the cops is a drinking, smoking stereotype who ¡°can¡¯t go down the same road again¡± because he remains haunted by a case from two years ago.
? If the ¡°Ouija¡± movies didn¡¯t fulfill your fair share of Lin Shaye as a crazy lady in an asylum, she plays more or less the same part here.
? Do you like exposition delivered via online research and newspaper clippings? If ¡°The Grudge¡± were set in the 20th century, you can bet someone would have rolled through microfiche files at a library too.
? A scene of someone tiptoeing around a creepy house calling someone else¡¯s name fits this flat formula so well, the film does it more than once.
? The climax includes a building going up in flames. Sigh.
More specific details aren¡¯t discussed in this review because the story is so boilerplate, there¡¯s not much to really recap. With a premise as threadbare as ¡°bad things happened in this house once, so now everyone who sets foot inside ends up haunted,¡± the characters have only a minimal mystery to get to the bottom of, which only runs about a half-inch deep.
Talk about being down in the dumps. ¡°The Grudge¡¯s¡± hollow persona was born, raised, and died there. If you let it, the film will drag your disposition down into those doldrums too.
Review Score: 30