The Grudge II
By: Rod Williams on November 2, 2006  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share
Director: Takashi Shimizu
Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Amber Tamblyn, Arielle Kebbel, Jennifer Beals, Takako Fuji, Ryo Ishibashi, Misako Uno, Shaun Sipos, Edison Chen
Screenplay: Stephen Susco
Country: USA
Australian Release Date: October 26, 2006
Distributor: Roadshow
Running Time: 102 minutes
Because Takashi Shimizu has now made the same movie six times, anyone would be forgiven for thinking that he is, perhaps, beginning to show signs of obsessive-compulsive behaviour. Just a hunch. Which means, this late in the game, most horrorphiles should know whether (a) they are fans of these effective little frightmares or (b) they must avoid any film containing the words 'grudge' or 'ju-on' in the title. If you're part of the latter group, you may want to stop reading.

Scripted by Takashi Shimizu and Stephen Susco, who both co-wrote the previous entry, The Grudge II sticks to the formula like Velcro and delivers another succession of well-engineered scares. Some of the more creative shocks involve mirrors, a tray of photo developing fluid, and a public phone booth. Of course, there's the usual array of sudden, harrowing appearances by Kayako and/or Toshio in the corner of the frame, ambushing the anxious and mistrustful audience. On other occasions you'll see a pale, blurred face behind one of the doomed principals, staring forward with dead, malignant eyes. It's quite remarkable that Shimizu can still devise ways of deploying his revenants to chastise more and more people dumb enough to walk into that evil bungalow of death. This time around, the Curse is forced to cast its net outside Japan in order to snare fresh souls and keep this profitable franchise going.

After the obligatory reminder of past events, the story kicks off in Chicago with Bill (Christopher Cousins, Earth vs The Spider) sitting down for a greasy breakfast with Trish (Jennifer Beals, The Prophecy II) in their bland Chicago apartment. Unfortunately for Bill, Trish is not feeling herself and doesn't take kindly to slurs about her overcooked bacon. We then flashback to Tokyo and watch sexy school girls Vanessa (Aussie Teresa Palmer, 2:37 and Wolf Creek) and Miyuki (Misako Uno) dare awkward newcomer Allison (Arielle Kebbel, Be Cool) to step inside the possessed house, which has gained notoriety as an urban legend. Naturally she meets the ghouls in residence and runs screaming out the front door, thereby setting in motion future torments. A third subplot involves Aubrey Davis (Amber Tamblyn, The Ring) visiting her unhinged sister Karen (Sarah Michelle Geller) in a Tokyo hospital at the behest of their sick mum (Joanna Cassidy, Blade Runner and Ghosts of Mars). When tragedy strikes, Aubrey hooks up with troubled journalist Eason (Edison Chen, Infernal Affairs), who has been obsessing over the lethal mystery for three years. He passes on some exposition via an occult specialist that leads to an absurd revelation about Kayako's mother. Along the way, various third parties are drawn in to the hair-raising terrors, both in Japan and America.

Like its predecessors, The Grudge II attempts to strike a balance between plot, characterisation, and white-knuckle hysteria. In a perfect world, the more dramatic elements would be compelling in their own right. Will stepmother Trish bond with Jake's children? Can Allison overcome her trauma and connect with her slutty new friends? How will Aubrey reconcile her relationship with her mother, whom she detests? Yes, well. Even with screen time being invested to develop these human interest stories, it was clear that five minutes without Kayako (played yet again by Takako Fuji) or Toshio (Ohga Tanaka) lurching out of someone's bath tub, clothing, or TV monitor, was too long for the movie to bear. When the teenage members of my Halloween night audience became restless (usually within three minutes by stopwatch), they took turns at improvising throat rattles to amuse each other. Such pranksters! Full credit to director Shimizu, though: for most of the duration, he managed to keep these bogans riveted to the screen. Near the end, intercuts between plot threads became intrusive, jolting you out of a tense moment and lessening the tension rather than heightening it, which would have been the intent.

Finally, Chris Young (Hellraiser) contributes another spooky music score, Jennifer Beals is hopelessly miscast, and the star of Tamara Jenna Dewan has a small role. The total lack of gore matches Ju-on: The Grudge (2003) for tameness, in contrast to the gruesome and highly enjoyable predecessor starring Buffy, which still remains cut on Australian DVD. Was The Grudge II censored to get its US PG-13 rating? It didn't seem so to this reviewer, but time will tell. Most importantly, the scares come at you thick and fast. Approach this movie as you would a Ramsey Campbell story – that is to say, with a serious frame of mind – and it should give you a chronic dose of the creeps. Ghastly entertainment.
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