The Grudge (2020)

You could say I’ve got a grudge against The Grudge. I mean, you could say that but it wouldn’t be accurate. I do have a slight history of it, as when I went to see the 2004 version with Sarah Michelle Gellar, the two front rows (immediately in front of me) were occupied by teenagers who talked incessantly and…I wanna say they texted each other, but I’m not sure that was a thing in 2004. I remember it, though.

I was apoplectic. It’s a miracle I, and they, survived. I’ve never encountered such rudeness and I never hope to again. And I never did learn what The Grudge was about. I tried to watch it on TV once. At least, the original Japanese version by Takashi Shimizu (who did one of my favorite After Dark Horror Festival movies, Best of Fest) but…yeah, I’m not sure I made it all the way through or that it held my attention. It made little impression, in any event.

Same ol' funhouse.

Cool image, bro. But it’s kinda been done to death and 20 years later, you’re sorta looking for this to have some symbolic or resonant meaning.

To further add to the lore, my mother fell and fractured her femur shortly before I went to see this. The Flower and I were in the OC for another of her art classes (and we’d just seen Ashfall) when I got the message she was in the hospital. Since there was nothing we could do, The Flower decided to go to her class and I was just marking time with the new version of The Grudge, specifically because I didn’t want to have to care if I was interrupted.

I was interrupted, but I would not have cared. This review will be a little spoilery since I don’t really care.

Anyone remember the heartbreak of "bathtub ring"?

It was spoiled when I go there, I swear.

Nicholas Pesce directs his own screenplay—yeah, I don’t know who he is either, and I think the draw on this is Sam Rami’s name attached, and maybe Takashi Ichise (producer on the original)—but it’s just…well, it’s not very good. In the broadest sense, this is a “fun house” horror, which I do not mind, especially if they’re going HAM on the cool imagery. But lately the Blumhouse horrors (like last year’s The Curse of La Llorona and Annabelle Comes Home) seem to be falling back on the “funhouse” style just because it’s easier than writing a cogent script.

No, no, no. You’ve gotta wow the audience if you want them not to notice that nothing makes sense. And there’s no wow factor here. It’s very paint-by-numbers. Which makes the awful stupidity of the plot really jump out at you.

The premise is that if someone is pissed off when they die, that makes The Grudge, which is curse that kills all who encounter it.

I imagine most people are pissed off when they’re murdered. OK, ok, but they gotta be really pissed off. Oh, and it’s gotta be real violent. So, Chicago is littered with grudges. Which, maybe explains Chicago. OK, ok, so let’s assume they have to be extraordinarily violent, the sort of thing that only occurs when you need to reboot a horror franchise.

Really. Wouldn't piss me off at all.

This is fine.

Our story begins with a prologue where a (very!) enterprising American realtor goes to Japan to visit the Grudge House. Presumably she doesn’t know that it’s the Grudge House and is just there for all the spicy input only Japanese realtors can give, but once she goes to the Grudge house, she’s doomed. The Curse follows her home and she kills her family.

The main story starts when our heroine Detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough, the eponymous Mandy!, though honestly I didn’t recognize her) joins the rather hearty police department of what seems to be a pretty podunk town, and her first case is tied to the realtor’s Murder Home. Apparently, after the realtor killed her family, several other people (literally everyone who ever stepped foot in the house, per the movie) also ended up dead or insane (but then dead).

So, what’s the first thing we know? Well, The Grudge is apparently highly mobile. It moved from Japan, not just to kill the realtor and her family, but everyone else who ever stepped foot in that house forever. Do you see the immediate issue here? This means that everyone who steps foot in a Grudge house carries that contagion to…well, maybe not every other house they step into, but at least their own home.

Also, Muldoon immediately steps foot inside the house, so she’s screwed. She spends the whole movie piecing it all together, and decides (spoiler?) that she’s going to solve the problem by burning down The Grudge house. Well, obviously, that’s not going to work, because…I mean, we started with The Grudge moving from Japan!

She's kinda cute.

I couldn’t find a picture of the fire from this film, so enjoy a picture of Sarah Michelle Gellar from 15 years ago.

But that’s the shocking twist, I guess. You’re supposed to be surprised that it didn’t work. In the end, she gets flashes of the original murder (which we didn’t see at the time) and I could see that the Pesce was trying to tie in the mysterious ghostly images with the murders. OK, points for that, because up till then, quite a few of the images seemed really arbitrary. But it doesn’t really make up for so much of the rest of the movie seeming arbitrary. How ghosts come and go and what they can do and not do. I mean, I think the thing was they couldn’t do anything but they could make others do things, which makes the final seen where Muldoon is dragged off Raimi-style sorta pointless.

I actually became fascinated with this movie early on, in a meta-sense. You know, when a movie completely fails to get your buy-in, you start to wonder why (because what else do you have to do?). I thought maybe it was me being distracted. I was worried about my mom, to be sure. But I was noticing that the movie somehow fails to convey any atmosphere.

That, to me, is fascinating, because even the worst movies of the “After Dark Horror Festival” managed a convincing atmosphere. (At first, anyway.) So I kept thinking, “I’ve seen shots of spooky houses done just like this, but this one seems perfectly lovely.” And “What a nice day!” Just very weird. Made me want to analyze it against other films. (Later I would see The Turning and Gretel and Hansel and note that the former managed some pretty good—but not great!—atmosphere while the latter tries very hard but somehow doesn’t manage atmosphere at all. Maybe I’m broken.)

The movie is not told sequentially, and at first that’s annoying as hell. It’s four or so different stories all taking place between about 2004 and 2006-ish. This is fine once you get used to it, and probably the only way you were going to get this thing told. There’s: The realtors, the crazy cop, the interracial couple, the young and pregnant couple, and of course the Muldoon framing story. (Muldoon is a widow/single-mom for no real reason.)

The acting is good. Demien Bichir (A Better Life) is Muldoon’s partner who’s too smart to go into the spook house. Lin Shaye is great, as always, as is her “husband”, Frankie Faison, with Jackie Weaver as a Kervorkian-type consultant called in to dispatch Shaye. John Cho and Betty Gilpin are the young pregnant couple. Tara Westwood is the murderous realtor.

Music by The Newton Brothers. Something about it struck me at the time but damned if I can remember what.

A lot of competent, talented people and the biggest shock here is how ineffective it is, even by modern Blumhouse standards. That’s kind of spooky.

Boo.

Who snuck up behind me? It’s the Grudge! Boo!

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