The Grudge is an excellent reminder that the worst sin a horror movie can commit is to be boring. The running time is 93 minutes, yet that hour-and-a-half feels like all day. I've seen terrible horror films that kept my attention by being interestingly bad. I've seen misguided ones that filled me with a certain admiration because they were at least shooting for big ideas. This reboot is just a bland copy of something that we saw more than fifteen years ago, with one new element: excessive gore.
Andrea Riseborough plays Detective Muldoon (she's never given a first name), a widow who moves to a new town with her young son. She and partner Goodman (Demian Bichir) are called in to investigate a rotting corpse inside an abandoned car in the woods. Muldoon discovers the body has a connection to a local home where a woman, Fiona Landers (Tara Westwood), killed her entire family years ago. John Cho co-stars in flashback as a real estate agent who sells the home after the murder, Lin Shaye and Frankie Faison play the current occupants, and Jacki Weaver is an assisted-suicide doctor who is brought in to help Shaye's character end her life.
Anyone familiar with The Grudge franchise already understands that the house is possessed with an ancient curse. Part of what's so dispiriting about the film is that writer/director Nicolas Pesce (The Eyes of My Mother) simply trots out all the same stuff from the 2004 Grudge and its 2006 sequel. Scene where someone is taking a shower and fingers come out the back of their head? Check. Pale little girl with stringy black hair who keeps popping up? Check. You get the drift.
Worse, the film telegraphs all its “scary” moments. There is never a time you don't know exactly when or where something is going to pop out. Cho's character, for example, stumbles upon a bathtub filled with blood. He slowly leans over to look at it, and the soundtrack goes quiet. You sense immediately what's coming – an abrupt, loud noise as a figure jumps out of the water to grab him. The obviousness with which these bits are executed is frustrating.
An excellent cast of actors is wasted in the process. No one is given anything fresh or compelling to do. They're all stuck in a muddled story that offers no opportunity for them to develop their characters. Why cast so many good people and then not take full advantage of their talents? Why introduce subplots – like the realtor and his wife trying to decide whether or not to terminate a pregnancy that will result in a gravely ill child – only to avoid having them come to a conclusion?
The Grudge series began with the 2002 Japanese film Ju-On, a film steeped in cultural myths and tropes. The previous Americanized versions were never really scary to begin with, because they imported the surface elements without finding equivalent meaning for the plot. More than a decade later, whatever impact those surface elements may have had has long dissipated. We've seen everything in the 2020 Grudge before. With this film, we see it again, presented in a rote fashion that creates an excess of tedium and zero thrills.
out of four
The Grudge is rated R for disturbing violence and bloody images, terror and some language. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.