When I was thinking of what to do for my first-ever HallowRewind Review—a new way to celebrate one of my favorite holidays—I wanted zero reservations towards whatever I chose. That knocked out the classics, like John Carpenter’s Halloween and The Thing, or tamer fare (such as The Nightmare Before Christmas), as they already have their respective place my heart; I’d be writing biased, nostalgia-fueled fluff. I searched through many films I’d seen but never really thought about—earlier films from the Child’s Play franchise, A Nightmare on Elm Street and other slashers, Tim Burton’s turn-of-the-century iteration of Sleepy Hollow, and so on. If I was to try something new, however, I wanted to review a film I hadn’t seen before…
Enter Takashi Shimizu’s 2004 remake of The Grudge in a $2 bin.
I’d heard about this film—and its 2002 Japanese predecessor—many a time. It’s an interesting film, playing on Japanese death rituals and beliefs concerning the afterlife, of which I was already semi-aware. The movie plays out like two parallel movies, with the backstory and initial haunting taking place in the flashbacks—memories shared by the ghosts—happening alongside the story in the present. The subdued color palette set it apart from a lot of other genre films I’ve seen, put me on-edge during viewing. The setting, too, makes the mood; it’s claustrophobic, and a lot of the same camera angles and staging are re-used to signal the ghostly presence—much like the orchestral prelude to the shark in Jaws. It’s filled with plenty of “nope” moments; talking to the TV is evidence of me being truly involved in a film.
The performances by Sarah Michelle Gellar and the mostly-Japanese supporting cast were monochrome, but they fit the tone of the movie perfectly. Lots of scenes had that “slow build” to maximize tension, and I could really sense Sam Raimi’s influence on the storytelling process (reminiscent of his work on The Evil Dead). The score was chilling and, overall, minimalist, except when the spirits were near. Practical effects—my cinematic weakness—were on-point in this film, thrilling and well-done without being cheap and in your face. Many of the typical horror tropes were present, but didn’t distract me from the story. I was grabbed from the very beginning with the first on-screen death and animated opening credits, and the pace was pretty steady throughout.
Although there are some pretty gaping plot holes and nagging questions I was left with when the end credits rolled…I’m okay with that. I probably won’t watch the sequels, and I don’t feel like I need to; movies don’t always need to be wrapped up all neat and tidy—it can be even more fulfilling, sometimes, to finish a cinematic puzzle on one’s own.
The Grudge gets a strong ****/* ‘Risk Assessment from me. It’s a fun film with a captivating atmosphere and that grungy aura that all early New Millennium films had about them. It was glossed, even if a bit of the magic of the Japanese original was lost in the translation to the English remake, but not so much that it can’t be appreciated for what it is by itself. An entertaining watch for any horror fan.