You know your horror movie isn’t going the way it should when the audience starts laughing at scenes that are meant to be scary. That’s what happened during a couple of sequences when I saw The Grudge — a horror supernatural film about a curse that leaves dead people in its wake. The film is underwhelming despite having talent behind and in front of the camera.
There’s producer Sam Raimi who, before directing the famous Spider-Man trilogy between 2002 and 2007, made a name for himself with a horror franchise that went from scary to satire called The Evil Dead. There’s writer and director Nicolas Pesce, a young filmmaker who has made two very good independent horror films, The Eyes of My Mother (2016) and Piercing (2018).
The Grudge also has some talented actors, including recognisable comedian John Cho (as Peter Spencer). Along with Betty Gilpin (Nina Spencer), Cho plays a real estate agent whose unborn child is suffering from the genetic disorder Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD).
The biggest problem with Nicolas Pesce’s The Grudge is that it’s predictable and boring
There’s also veteran actress Lin Shaye (as Faith Matheson), who horror fans will recognise from Insidious. She plays one-half of an elderly couple with Frankie Faison (William Matheson). She has dementia and is dying. While both Shaye and Faison have impactful roles, The Grudge doesn’t utilise their talents. There’s also multiple Academy Award-nominee Jacki Weaver (as Lorna Moody), who plays an assisted suicide consultant hired by the elderly couple, and is relegated to a one-dimensional role that doesn’t utilise her talents either.
The biggest problem with The Grudge is that it’s predictable. Alongside the Spencers and the Mathesons, the film tells the tale of two other families at different timelines. This includes Fiona (Tara Westwood) and Sam Landers (David Lawrence Brown). Here, live-in nurse Fiona carries a curse from Tokyo to their home at 44 Reyburn Drive in Pennsylvania, resulting in suffering for her family. It also includes Detective Muldoon, who is played by talented actress Andrea Riseborough (National Treasure). She investigates the murders at 44 Reyburn Drive.
Once you see the fate of one family at 44 Reyburn Drive, you can easily foresee how the rest of the film’s twists will play out. Predictability isn’t unusual in a horror film. Unfortunately, the storytelling and dialogue are very boring. To make matters worse, the twists are stupid, and the filmmakers don’t realise it.
Once you see the fate of one family at 44 Reyburn Drive, you can easily foresee how the rest of the film’s twists will play out. Predictability isn’t unusual in a horror film. Unfortunately, the storytelling and dialogue are very boring. To make matters worse, the twists are stupid, and the filmmakers don’t realise it. The Grudge clearly thinks it’s more profound than it is but, instead of wowing the audience, it just puts them in a slumber.
The Grudge isn’t scary either. While the atmosphere can be tense, the film resorts to tired jump scares that are annoying at best and laughable at worst. Likewise, the imagery is also amusing rather than unsettling. The original Japanese version of The Grudge called Ju-On: The Grudge was chilling 20 years ago because the visuals were fresh. Since then, there have been many sequels, remakes, and several parodies on TV shows. That’s why a hand coming out of a character’s head doesn’t feel scary. To make matters worse, they exposed the better parts of the film so much in the posters and trailers that it has lessened their impact.
Nicolas Pesce could have made a better film had he not been held back by the expectations of a franchise, or if he were more experienced with making studio films. Many of the scares in The Grudge feels forced — as if shoehorned in by the studio. Stay at home for this one. Let it stay buried. You can find less derivative horror films on TV.
Rated R for disturbing violence and bloody images, terror and some language
Published in Dawn, ICON, January 12th, 2020