The Grudge (2020)—Cursed by Franchise Fatigue?

The Grudge is an American supernatural horror reimagining of the popular horror of the same name from 2004 that starred Sarah Michelle-Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), which itself was, in turn, a remake of the cult classic Japanese horror Ju-On that was released two years prior.

In the first two iterations, the writing and directing duties were handled by Takashi Shimizu. On this outing, The Grudge reboot is written and helmed by Nicolas Pesce whose previous credits include the 2018 horror/thriller Piercing. The original source material Ju-On is a legendary J-Horror movie and its remake keeps most of the ingredients that made its predecessor so successful, even going as far as hiring the same director as I previously mentioned. I think the aesthetics of the remake captured the creepy, otherworldly feel that is very prevalent throughout Japanese horror like in Ringu which too was later adapted successfully into The Ring by Gore Verbinski.

Man in shower washing his hair with a third hand appearing fro his head
The Grudge Movie Poster

In both the original and the remake when you see that little boy turn and look into the camera and screech like a cat for the first time it sends chills down your spine. There was something about the very appearance of the victims of the curse that just made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Unfortunately, though, the terror from the earlier entries seems to be missing in this installment in the franchise, everything about it just seems like a rehash of previous horror movies from the past five years.

Just like the other Grudge movies, the story is told in a non-linear way, taking place over three timelines: one set in 2004, the other 2005, and the last in the present-day. Each timeline of the tale explores the inhabitants and the horrible goings-on that occurred in and around the house at 44 Reyburn Drive.

The present-day story follows Detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough) investigating the said goings-on at the house which all stem from the Detective and her partner (Demián Bichir) being called out to investigate a case. It is upon investigating the case that they discover a fetid corpse in a car in the woods linked to the house at Reyburn Drive. It doesn’t take Detective Muldoon long to also discover that her partner has more than few skeletons hidden in his closet when it comes to that house at that very same address.

Woman standing at the driver side door of a car that contains a rotted corpse
Detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough)

After becoming suspicious, Detective Muldoon sets out in search of answers by beginning to look back through old case files. She uncovers the truth that there is something more to this house than meets the eye and that the case she’s on has put her in more danger than she could have ever imagined. It is when she is reading the files that we see what has occurred at Reyburn Drive, told through the two timelines in ’04 and ’05 respectively.

The portion of the movie that takes place in 2004 is mostly centered around Peter (John Cho) and Nina Spencer (Betty Gilpin), especially Peter Spencer who is in the process of trying to hand over real estate documents to the then-current residents of 44 Reyburn Drive. You can guess it quickly goes south from there.

The way this timeline climaxes is probably the most noteworthy part of Spencer’s story but the payoff is not worth how sloppily the build-up is constructed. Cho comes out looking good with another solid performance which is no small feat considering how little his role had to offer.

The second timeline occurs during 2005, focusing on the Mathesons. Lin Shaye’s take on the mentally ill Faith Matheson was interesting if not a little over the top, I love how she always commits fully to her roles. Just like Insidious, she looks as though she is enjoying every moment she appears on the screen. If there is any saving grace to this movie (and there isn’t) it comes in the guise of the relationship between Faith and William Matheson.

Frankie Faison (The Wire), in the role of William Matheson, shows how heartbreaking it can be for people who have to watch loved ones go through the throes of mental illness and how sometimes they are faced with the toughest of decisions. I think if Pesce had delved deeper into their relationship it might have been a more interesting story overall.

A bloodied woman standing in a kitchen screaming with a knife in her hand
Faith Matheson (Lin Shaye)

Even though the characters are incredibly undercooked, Cho, Shaye, and Faison are definitely the few strong points about the movie, Cho and Faison, in particular, do well with the little they are given, showing that even when given next to nothing to work with good actors still show what lies within their repertoire. Unfortunately instead of the unpredictable and interesting directions that the original and it’s direct remake take us, this version leads the audience in the most obvious of places, setting up road signs along the way that are so clear in advance of where the narrative of this piece is heading.

The pacing is so slow and lacking in intensity, everything about The Grudge screams generic from the cheesy telegraphed jump scares that are so formulaically put together, to the obvious nature of the setups, to the extremely underdeveloped characters that lacked as much flesh on their bones as the poor victims that bore the brunt of the curse.

Pesce, the creator of this piece, quite obviously has the bare minimum amount of respect for the intelligence of the modern horror audience because he made little to no attempt to make this story unique in any way. It just screams like it would be better served as a mid-week made for tv movie. The storytelling is so clunky and without any drive.

It comes strikingly clear from the outset that the pieces of this puzzle seem to be misshapen, never slotting into place alongside each other to construct a coherent narrative. This causes The Grudge to constantly stutter and stagger. We are never given any real-time with the characters so we never grow attached to them in any way before they are each summarily dispatched by the evil spirits that reside within the cursed premises.

A ghost of a young girl peering her head above the water in a bath
Kayako Ghost

Instead, this rebooted take on The Grudge goes for the lowest common denominator time and time again. It pales in comparison to both the original and its Americanised remake, failing to capture any of the essences of the earlier offerings from the franchise.

To be honest, the best thing about the entire experience as a whole were the trailers for A Quiet Place 2 and Underwater before The Grudge got rolling, as the movie itself is unimaginative, uncreative, highly predictable and wholly without any semblance of the subtly or skill that is unquestionably required to craft this story into a workable haunted house tale, which is essentially what it is.

After sitting through this totally dour, lackluster cinematic affair, one comes to the realization of how immensely skilled a filmmaker like James Wan is in the way he meticulously crafts fear-inducing modern horror classics like Insidious and The Conjuring. They are both so clever, so innovative and so extremely quick off the mark and incredibly intense: literally all of the things that The Grudge is lacking in abundance.

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Written by Vincent Greene

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