Review by Sean Boelman
An attempt to bring back the early 2000’s cult classic J-horror from the dead, The Grudge is the first major release of 2020, and it kicks the new decade off with a whimper. Even though there are some extremely talented players behind and in front of the camera, it seems like studio interference keeps this film from being as chilling as its predecessors.
The movie tells interconnected stories of people linked by a cursed house containing a vengeful spirit. The most significant issue with the film, and the root of many of the movie’s other problems, is the sheer amount of moving parts in the story. Whereas the other films have focused on one protagonist being haunted, there are multiple hauntings happening in this version.
Although it isn’t inherently bad for a film to be multifaceted like this, the connection between the storylines is too loose, and the causality too unclear, for the movie to be particularly effective. The narrative is told in a nonlinear manner, and while it makes sense at first, the timeline becomes more and more confused as the film goes on until the jumping back and forth between storylines starts to feel exhausting.
Since there are so many storylines in the movie, it is hard to really sympathize with any of the characters on a particularly deep level. The de facto protagonist, a detective trying to get over the grief of losing her husband, has the potential to be very interesting, but time is wasted on other inessential characters (like a realtor who doesn’t really have any impact on the main story) instead of exploring the more compelling aspects of her background.
It really is a shame that the character development is so weak, as the film’s ensemble is full of excellent performers. Andrea Riseborough, Demián Bichir, John Cho, Betty Gilpin, Lin Shaye, and Jacki Weaver make up the main cast, but none of them are used to their full potential. When the delivery isn’t completely flat, the actors are far too over-the-top. However, it is worth noting that these frequently sudden shifts very well could be the result of terrible editing.
Another thing about this movie that is frustrating is that it feels completely empty and shallow. Whereas the original film (and the English remake) had something to say about revenge, this movie doesn’t seem to have anything on its mind. Perhaps the deeper meaning was lost on the cutting room floor — it frequently feels like important scenes are missing from the film — but as it plays, this is little more than a shallow horror flick dependent on bad jump scares.
On a technical level, the movie also needed quite a bit of work. Although director Nicolas Pesce has a very definitive style, it only shines through in a handful of segments (such as the ending). This is what makes it abundantly clear that, somewhere along the line, Pesce lost complete creative control over the film and edits were made in an attempt to make the movie more accessible for general audiences. The result is a total mess that will be even harder for viewers to swallow.
Apart from a handful of creepy images, The Grudge is completely lacking as a film. With a few exceptions, January is a notorious dumping ground for terrible horror movies, and while this will likely make some money due to lack of competition, it is an abomination indicative of the flaws of the modern studio system.
The Grudge is now playing in theaters.