The Grudge 1 & 2
By: Trist Jones on October 23, 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 (The Grudge 1 Only) English Subtitles. 176 minutes
The Movie
Director: Takashi Shimizu
Starring: Chikara Ishikura, Kanji Tsuda, Kayoko Shibata, Megumi Okina, Misa Uehara, Misaki Ito; Noriko Sakai, Chiharu Nîyama, Kei Horie, Yui Ichikawa, Shingo Katsurayama
Screenplay: Takashi Shimizu
Music: Gary Ashiya, Shiro Sato
Country: Japan
Year: 2003
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.

Now then, If you, like me, thought the original Ju-On/The Grudge was a pretty ordinary experience, you're going to want to steer well clear of the sequel. For some bizarre reason, most of the people I know who enjoyed the first, enjoyed the second even more, and I cannot for the life of me work out why. I've seen some terrible horror films in my time, truly terrible, usually in terms of production values – sometimes in terms of storytelling, but most of those went completely under the radar and currently reside in the realm of Straight-to-Video cheese. The Grudge 2 should have been better than this. It could have been better than this… but for some reason, in spite of how monstrously huge the first was in terms of success and cult favouritism, The Grudge 2 is a prime example of good ideas murdered by terrible execution and requires far more attention than it deserves.

The Grudge 2 is, as the numerical title would suggest, a direct follow on from the original film. This presents an immediate problem: if you have not seen the first film within twenty-four hours prior to viewing this film, you will be completely lost on pretty much every subtle reference and plot point that binds the two (it may be easy for the Japanese, but trying to remember who's who from the first and recognising names is a bit of a task when you're reading subtitles and have similar looking casts). Dubious racial ignorance aside (I truly am sorry, but the cast is genuinely very forgettable, and their screen time along with the story structure doesn't help), the film itself plays out in a similarly disjointed fashion to the first; a series of vignettes all tied to a core story and criss-crossing each other in a similar fashion to Jackie Brown (for those who haven't seen the first… but are for some reason reading a review of the second).

The core story follows Koyoko Harase, an actress dubbed the 'horror queen' largely because of a single film that most people seem to recognise her from and soon to be mother. After her partner hits and kills a cat on the road home one night, Koyoko sees the ghost boy from the first film, and from that point on, she seems to be a magnet to the malevolent force that haunted the first. Anyway, the ghost boy appears in the car and as you would expect, the car crashes, and we are led to believe that Koyoko has lost her child, and Koyoko goes into an expected bout of depression. After all – her boyfriend is in a coma and she's just been told she lost her baby. Anyway, this is not the case, and we learn soon after that she is still with child (although the spook boy presents us with the possibility that the baby may not be safe, or that something is tying the two). Anyway, eventually a film crew ropes her into appearing in a TV special about haunted houses, and lo and behold, she is dragged into the house where the horror began. Predictably, the crew get bumped off in "creepy" ways and for some reason, Koyoko is unknowingly the focal point for the activity. Things escalate as one would expect in ways one probably wouldn't right up until the film's bizarre climax.

Sounds like it could be pretty good, right? Sure. It could have been really good, if it weren't such an awfully made film. I mentioned earlier how terrible the production values of this film are, every time something supposedly scary happened, I found myself laughing or rolling my eyes – this was like Evil Dead 2, but at least Evil Dead 2 was meant to be comedic as well as horrific, so the terrible effects were often part of the gag. Not here my friends… the film fails miserably in selling the 'horror' of the moment, and when the moments involve things like crawling wigs and fully grown births, you can't help but laugh out loud. The horror is also destroyed by awful camera work that manages to kill pretty much every moment that could have been somewhat disturbing had they been timed and shot better. The other thing that doesn't help is the terrible acting, which is both accentuated by, and further accentuates just how terrible the camera work is. You know it's bad acting too, if you can pick out bad acting in a foreign language film.

These are big no-no's for a successful horror film. Usually you can get away with one or the other (most of the classics do) but all of them combined equals horror film suicide. The biggest problem with all of this is that the film actually has some pretty good ideas that could be genuinely disturbing, had they not been ruined by lazy film making. Most of the "scares" fall flat on their face and the ones that sort of work are more disturbing because of their bizarre nature than the actual horror of the moment. The birth sequence could have been truly horrifying, but in all honesty, once I was over the initial "What the Hell?!" of it all, I was in hysterics. The same goes for the majority of the "big" scares sprinkled through The Grudge 2.

The whole thing bugs me even more because I know that the director has already made this film once before (which would be interesting to see for the sake of comparison) on a lower budget, and is being paid by Sam Raimi to make it again for America. I suspect that it may be worth waiting for the American release; after all, third time's a charm…
The Grudge - 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 Grudge 2 - Much like the first film, the DVD seems to have been sourced from whichever print was on hand at the time. It's not bad, but it's far from picture perfect. There are grainy patches here and there and the odd artefact every now and then, so it's watchable, but you know it can definitely be better. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is 16x9 compatible.
The Grudge - 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!

The Grudge 2 - It's a pretty standard audio track. Everything is clear enough, but the score is so terrible that you'll wish you could listen to something else. It doesn't exactly make use of the 5.1 surround set up, which is unfortunate because films like this usually have awesome sound scapes that really give the old speakers a work out, but for those who are fussy about it you do get the original Japanese sound track in 5.1 and DTS. No English audio either guys.
Extra Features
The Grudge - 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 Grudge 2 - We have a storyboard comparison, which looks at four key sequences in the film (including the hilarious "Evil Wig" sequence) but is ultimately pretty bland, and a 20 minute behind the scenes piece which is fairly similar in nature to the behind the scenes snippets included on the DVD of the first film. As usual, you also get trailers for the film and for other Eastern Eye releases.

If you're a stickler for extras, there is a two discer out in the UK that is choc-a-block full of extras, but the casual fan might just want to pick it up as part of the Eastern Eye Grudge boxed set (as it's inexplicably cheaper to buy the two films in the one set than it is to buy either of them individually).
The Verdict
As a boxed set, it's a bit of a double edged sword. I didn't mind the first film, but The Grudge 2 stank. For me, this set ultimately comes down to how deep your wallet is. It's a great set in that it surprisingly costs less to pick up both of these films as the set than it does to purchase either film individually, so unless you already own either of the two and only need the other, the boxed set is definitely the way to go. At least that way, you can check out the sequel for free and if you think it stinks you haven't exactly lost anything except 91 minutes. Personal gripes about the sequel aside, this is still a very affordable set and very good value. If you're a fan of either film, you'd be insane to get the individual releases at their current prices.
Movie Score
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