The Grudge (2003)
By: Trist Jones on October 6, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Eastern Eye (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). Japanese DD 5.1, Japanese DTS 5.1, Japanese DD 2.0. English Subtitles. 90 minutes
The Movie
Director: Takashi Shimizu
Starring: Chikara Ishikura, Kanji Tsuda, Kayoko Shibata, Megumi Okina, Misa Uehara, Misaki Ito
Screenplay: Takashi Shimizu
Music: Gary Ashiya, Shiro Sato
Country: Japan
AKA: Ju-On
Ever since the release of Ringu took the horror world by storm back in the late Nineties, Japanese horror films (popularly dubbed J-Horror) have been both a dime a dozen and very fickle things in nature. You will get people who rant and rave about how awesome J-Horror is, and how it's better than the Western horror being released (something of a contentious argument, but the opinions exist nonetheless), and you will get those who feel the exact opposite (ditto), but then again, you will get those who just don't give a shit either way and want something good and scary to watch. I happen to fall into this bracket. I don't care where it comes from, just so long as it's scary or a decent watch.

Now, when Ju-on (then titled simply The Grudge in English) was making waves overseas a few years back, the ripples of said waves inevitably found my ears, causing them to prick. "…A new horror flick from Japan that's as scary as Ringu/The Ring!" was what I was hearing most commonly, sometimes even the boastful "better than The Ring!" came up as well. So, I waited and waited and as soon as Ju-on was released here, it was in my hands and heading straight for the DVD player. I was excited.

An hour and a half later, I was a bit disappointed.

When you cut through it all, The Grudge comes off simply as a meandering and somewhat confusing series of interwoven vignettes that saves itself by using all the clichés in the Big Book of Ghost Movie Devices in a very effective manner. It plays, as most of these films do, more on the drawn out scares (actually dread is probably more appropriate), forcing you to look at something by keeping it on screen, rather than flashing it at you from the dark and hiding it again before you can see how fake it is or how much CGI it's comprised of, and while it does this very well, as the film progresses, it starts to feel a little bit like Jason Voorhees syndrome. Though The Grudge is shots ahead of the majority of Jason's antics, what I mean by this is that it feels as though the creative forces behind The Grudge had an idea for a terrifying visual (or series of) and then tried to work out what to put around it, and while I know that this is the basis for most creative concepts (idea built upon idea), The Grudge feels somewhat empty in spite of it's fairly complex structure.

As I said, The Grudge's story is broken up into a series of intertwining vignettes all centred around a house where a savage murder took place. I won't go into to much detail as there is something of a twist involved, but each of the stories links in with a central story, that of Nishina Rika, a volunteer social worker who has come to check in on an elderly woman living in the aforementioned house. The old woman inside is a vegetable and the house is a wreck, but what disturbs Rika the most is the fact that in a cold, upstairs bedroom, one of the wardrobes has been closed and sealed with duct tape. Curiosity piqued, she opens the closet and inadvertently releases a sinister force linked to the house's past. Needless to say, this evil force gets a hold of some people you aren't exactly given much time to care about and fucks them up J-Horror style (for the uninitiated: minimal gore, maximum creep-out factor), and it's not long before the police are both involved and baffled by what's going on… except one. The former detective that was involved in the investigation surrounding the murder in the house, soon finds himself involved, and when the spirit does the unthinkable (in terms of ghost movie rules and tradition) and leaves the house to get him, Rika realises that she's no longer safe. The rest is pretty straight forward.

As it stands, The Grudge is not a bad film, actually, it's quite a well made piece of cinema, it's just that it suffers in my mind from the fact that we've already had Ringu, Dark Water, and (if you were lucky enough to see it before the U.S. snapped it up for remaking) Kairo/The Pulse. Ringu was a groundbreaking horror film for all of us outside Japan, as it simultaneously introduced the Western World to what would become a huge new wave in horror film making, and set the benchmark for Japanese horror (here at least). Dark Water was a huge letdown; as it fell into the trappings of it's own hype, having followed Ringu here as both a film release and a creative follow-up, and Kairo, which not too many people have yet had the chance to see, was great – far better than Dark Water, and a great little twist on the J-Ghost phenomena. Then along comes The Grudge. It had all the signs of being a good J-horror, but the problem was, even in spite of lowered standards thanks largely to the deluge of mediocre Asian horror releases in the wake of Ringu, The Grudge failed to topple Ringu as the best J-horror had to offer, as so many had been touting it would. To me, it felt as though it was trying to out-creep Ringu, and though it does have some brilliant moments of horror (hand in the shower and pretty much everything else that leads up to the bed-crawl sequence), it's almost as though that was really all it was trying to do – topple Ringu with creepiness.

Now, I'm very happy to completely admit that there is a significant amount of bias here. Ringu set the standard for me, but I have the feeling that had I seen The Grudge before Ringu, my review would be in a much more positive light, hence why I must reiterate the fact that it's not a bad film. It's well worth seeing, but if you've already seen Ringu, don't expect something that will blow it out of the water as so many have claimed. It probably is worth seeing if you've only watched the American remake though, and a great way for you to get into J-horror, if you haven't already done so.

Just for those who are interested: the Sam Raimi-produced remake is pretty similar to the original, in spite of Bill Pullman, Ted Raimi and Sarah Michelle Gellar. It's nowhere near as inspired a remake as The Ring, and straddles the line of being too much of the same thing – ala Gus Van Sant's 1998 Psycho remake – but I suppose that's what you get when you have the original's director make it for you… who already made the film two or three times before.
The print, for the most part is pretty damn close to perfection. It's an older release and a particularly dark film, so you do get areas where the colours tend to make shapes a little amorphous in the darkness, but other than that it's a fairly clean print – a few nicks and dirt flickers here and there, but nothing that's going to interfere with the film's watchability. The Grudge is also presented in it's 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio and 16x9 compatible.
The sound, much like Ringu, really helps make this film. You aren't too likely to forget the horrible croaking noise the spirit makes, and for some reason, the cat noises the boy makes (something I'd usually find hilarious) are well utilized. For those fussy about sound quality, the sound is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1, as well as a standard stereo track. There's no English dub for those literarily challenged though, so it's subtitles or no Grudge for you!
Extra Features
Something that always surprises me is the lack of substantial extras on such supposedly significant films. Eastern Eye is always a bit hit and miss in terms of extras, sometimes going balls-out and other times having none, so if you're a freak for extras – prepare to be somewhat let down…

Explore the House gives you a series of behind the scenes snippets shot by a crew member on a hand-held. There's nothing all that pertinent here and it's not exactly informative, but you do get a feel for what it was like on set and how the director works (which I suppose is something that's really only likely to appeal to film students or prospective film makers).

The Cast and Crew Interviews aren't exactly stellar either, just some general questions regarding the who, what, why and how to the film's main cast and the director in a very brief and round-about fashion.

You also get the selection of trailers for both The Grudge and other films in the Eastern Eye collection.
The Verdict
Younger viewers may find it all a little confusing, as it's a film that's based fairly heavily in Japanese tradition (I suggest you try the remake first), and some older viewers may just be put off by the fact that there are a lot of unnecessarily confusing sections to The Grudge, but it's still a really hard one to nail down. There's nothing particularly wrong or damaging about this film, but it's not exactly breaking any new grounds either. If you do like this film, there are a number of availability options open to you, which you might want to take into consideration; the film is available both individually and as part of a double pack with the sequel through Eastern Eye, however if you're a true fan of this film, you may want to consider investing in the Platinum Edition available in the UK, as it contains more comprehensive and far superior extras. This edition was released by Contender Entertainment if you want to track it down. Anyway, enough of my rambling… bottom line is this: Didn't like it as much as Ringu, but still worth checking out though.
Movie Score
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