The horror genre seems to go in cycles. Something new comes along and is a hit, then other movies mimic the formula until everyone gets sick of it and moves on to something else. Halloween begat a series of films about masked slashers. Scream ushered in a string of post-modern, self-referential horror movies. When it was released two years ago, The Grudge rode high on the wave of Asian-inspired horror, brought to these shores most successfully in The Ring. However, that trend quickly rode its course, having been subsequently replaced by the current ďtorture chicĒ style, which was ushered in by Saw. That means The Grudge 2 is already an anomaly Ė an attempt to employ a style that is no longer much in favor.
Itís hard to know where to begin with this sorry sequel, because when it was over, I felt like I hadnít actually seen a movie. Everything about it just evaporates immediately. So letís flash back for just a second. When we last left Karen Davis (Sarah Michelle Gellar), she had set fire to the creepy Japanese house that infects visitors with a deadly curse. Now Karen is in a mental hospital for her actions. Her sister Aubrey (Amber Tamblyn) heads to Japan to bring Karen home. However, before that can happen, the creepy visions start reappearing and Karen is killed. (Normally, I wouldnít print a spoiler like that, but since Karenís death is given away in all the advertising, I guess itís fair game.)
Aubrey naturally wants to find out what drove her sister crazy, and the trail eventually leads back to that house. In most movies, this would be the story. The Grudge 2 is different, though. Rather than focusing on her investigation, the movie goes in several directions simultaneously. We also meet Alison (John Tucker Must Dieís Arielle Kebbel), an exchange student in Japan who falls victim to the curse, and a Chicago family who falls under the same spell. These latter two things are connected in a way that is supposed to be a surprise, but isnít; neither of them has anything to do with Aubrey.
And therein lies the major, fatal flaw with The Grudge 2: it has lots of subplots, but no plot. There is no center here, no anchor to carry us through. Itís hollow in the middle. The original had Karen discovering that the strange goings-on at the house were the result of a curse that was generated by some previous occupants. Granted, thatís a little thin, but at least it seemed to be going somewhere. The sequel merely seems pointless. Without giving anything away, Aubrey goes to the house and learns that, yep Ė thereís a curse. The little boy in the Chicago family learns that everyone is acting strangely around him and thereís nothing he can do about it. Thatís literally it. Thereís no concept, no tale being told, no hook to reel us in.
One of my favorite horror movies of the last 20 years is The Ring, which was, of course, about a videotape that killed anyone who watched it. The sequel, The Ring Two, was less effective, but at least they tried to add something to the mythology. The sequel basically said: Look, we know youíve seen the whole videotape thing. Now weíre going to give you the back story on it. I found some interest in having a few of the gaps filled in. This is what The Grudge 2 ought to be doing, but instead it merely retreads everything from the original without having any semblance of a story.
I canít remember a recent movie that was so formless and incoherent. Consequently, I spent my time staring at the screen, not really comprehending what I was seeing. It hasnít even been 24 hours since I saw the film and I can barely even recall what happened in it.
Director Takashi Shimizu (who also made the original Japanese pictures on which the American Grudge series is based) once again fills the screen with horrifically bizarre imagery. Perhaps he thought that was enough to scare his audience. It isnít. Without a context in which to put them, the images (dazzling as some of it is) ultimately have no meaning. The Grudge 2 also falls victim to overexposure of its creepy elements. By now, the sight of spooky long-haired girls, blue children, and murky water have been co-opted by too many other Asian-influenced horror movies, and mercilessly parodied by the last two Scary Movie flicks. Theyíve lost their ability to get a reaction.
I wasnít crazy about the original Grudge. It also lacked something in the story department, but the visuals seemed fresh and fun at the time. It was, at the very least, watchable. The Grudge 2 is almost the exact opposite. The movie is a complete mess that, occasional bit of stylistic cleverness aside, just rots up on the screen.
( 1/2 out of four)
The Grudge 2 is rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, disturbing images/terror/violence, and some sensuality. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.
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