*Insert terrifying croaky throat sound here*
In the early 2000s, there was this short-lived trend of American remakes of J-Horror. It started with The Ring in 2002 but went into high gear after the 2004 release of The Grudge. The Grudge was based on the movie Ju-On: The Grudge, the third entry in the Ju-On film franchise which currently contains 13 entries total.
There are also novels, short films, comics and even a video game for the Nintendo Wii. It’s only natural then, now we’re in the age of bad horror remakes, to have a bad remake of a ‘classic’ horror film that itself was also a remake. This doesn’t at all fill me with despair about the current state of the horror genre… this is fine.
What's the score?!
It’s a remake that no one asked for delivering ‘scares’ that end up scaring nobody, all while people spout dialogue that’s hilarious at best and bland at worst. The only bright spots in the entire film are two female cinematic icons and John Cho, which isn’t enough to salvage this film.
The Grudge (2020) uses four families to weave its tale of what we’re politely going call ‘terror’. We follow the Landers, the Spencers, the Mathesons and the police. Chronologically, it begins at the Landers house because Fiona Landers (Tara Westwood) worked in the house in Tokyo where the original rage-filled murder took place.
Since they don’t check for rage ghosts when you go through customs, apparently rage ghosts are less noticeable than 100 millilitres of liquid, Fiona accidentally brought the rage ghost home and kills her whole family which attaches the curse to her new home in Pennsylvania, thus allowing the ‘plot’ to happen. From that point onwards we intermittently go between the three other families who end up in some way interacting with the Landers house, thus being cursed by the ghost.
Each section lifts elements from other films in this series, such as the iconic shot of fingers coming out of the back of a characters head that was so intrinsically linked with this series that it’s one of the shots Scary Movie 4 parodied. While homage to previous films is fine, a lot of this just feels like a deliberate rip-off for no reason other than no one making this had an original idea.
You’d think not having an original idea would be the warning sign to just avoid doing the film at all but you’re not thinking like a Hollywood executive who only understands things in terms of “What memorable IP can we plunder to get some quick cash?”. I honestly would’ve preferred it if this film had done what every other horror franchise does when it runs out of ideas and went into space, that would be more interesting.
As it is, the big thing this film does that’s worth even mentioning is that it completely removes the story from Tokyo. It shows us the original house right at the start of the movie, accompanied by a jump scare that doesn’t work. Beyond that, we never return to where the story originated from thus making the story 100% American and also incredibly watered down, even when you factor in the larger amounts of CGI blood that they throw around randomly.
Just because the film is bloody and revels in grimy-looking gore doesn’t make it a good film, it means it knows it’s target audience is sick of PG-rated horror films and threw in some red stuff to pretend it has an edge. It doesn’t, having edge would imply that it did something interesting beyond having a character yell out “The house is grudge!”.
Nothing about this works
Each of the narratives that are brought up in this film touch on a topic loaded with potential for a good horror film (Spousal abuse, abortion, assisted suicide and single parenting while doing a dangerous job) but the film doesn’t go below surface level with any these ideas, it just brings them up offhandedly and discards them when it’s time to do a subpar jump scare. When it isn’t resorting to a subpar jump scare, the film will just replay certain scenes because it thinks you’re an idiot who can’t remember a moment from 30 minutes prior. It has no respect for the intelligence of the audience, hoping that if it screams at you loud enough you’ll say it was good.
It’s not as though this film is holding back, there’s more than enough CGI blood and violence to go around but none of it means anything. Most of the violence just happens with no building tension whatsoever and when they try to build tension it’s just adorable.
You want to go “Oh, isn’t that cute, they’re trying to be a real horror film, how precious” every time they throw out another very ineffective jump scare. The only slightly effective moment is effective because Lin Shaye is just that damn good that when she puts on the crazy face, it’s genuinely creepy… but Lin’s maybe in a quarter of the movie, she can’t do everything.
There were certainly a lot of startling moments, it turns out that if you have a guy with no jaw jump out of the darkness and yell loudly directly at the camera you can make the audience react in the same way you would if you popped a balloon behind their heads but it’s not scary. The audience I saw it with spent more time laughing than they did screaming which is never a good sign. It’s barely even a proper Grudge movie, it’s a tribute act trying to do cover versions of the greatest hits but it doesn’t quite get what made them work the first time.
Do you want a shorthand (at the end of a 1000 word review) explanation of how much this film missed the mark? The most iconic image of this franchise is the ghosts with unnaturally white skin and pure black hair, it’s a look that is instantly terrifying…this movie decided to make all the ghosts look like regular humans who are just a little bit dirty. If they can’t even get the basic look of the ghosts right, how do you expect them to get anything else right? They tried but everything fell short. When I can honestly say that the 2004 remake was better, that should say everything.