Film Review – The Grudge (2020)
Ahh, 2020. A brand new year, which means a brand new start to check out fresh, original movies. Every January brings some excitement and anticipation for what will come, in hopes that we will be graced with cinema that makes us look at the world in a totally new light. So, let’s see what we have in store for us this week…
The Grudge (2020).
That’s right folks. The horror property that started in 2002 with the Japanese Ju-on and was remade as the American The Grudge in 2004 is back yet again with another entry. As before, we are described a specific ghost rule: if a person dies in the midst of extreme rage, a curse is born that will haunt anyone who comes in contact with it. Over time, the curse will pass onto another person, and another beyond that, like a highly contagious virus.
I wish I could tell you that this latest iteration of The Grudge is a good version of this story, but I don’t want to lie to you. This is a grim, bleak, and ugly looking movie that delivers no thrills, scares, or entertainment. This is one of the least scary “scary movies” I’ve seen in a long while. I’m sure writer/director Nicolas Pesce came in with the best intentions, but the final product left much to be desired. There just isn’t anything here to justify returning to this world.
The first issue is the unnecessarily convoluted narrative. The story is a light sequel to the American remake. We are given not one, not two, not three, but four different storylines all taking place during different times in the mid 2000s. Let’s break each one down:
In 2004, Fiona (Tara Westwood) – after staying in the same Japanese home the first remake took place – returns to her family in Pennsylvania. Unbeknown to her, Fiona accidentally also brought the same curse back with her, leading to some very bad results.
Shortly after Fiona’s return, Peter (John Cho) and Nina (Betty Gilpin) discover that their unborn child may have health complications. At the same time, Peter is a real estate agent, attempting to sell Fiona’s home. This, as it turns out, leads to some very bad results.
In 2005, elderly couple William (Frankie Faison) and Faith (Lin Shaye) are now living in the house. Faith is an invalid, suffering from dementia and a terminal illness. William consults with an assisted suicide specialist (Jackie Weaver) about the possibility of ending Faith’s pain. That decision gets even more difficult with the presence of the curse (who has taken residency in the home). This situation, surprisingly, leads to some very bad results.
In 2006, rookie detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough), while investigating her latest case, stumbles upon the home and the strange connection between the previously described events. She pushes forward despite the protests of her veteran partner (Demián Bichir). Take a wild guess how this ends up?
I suppose having all of these separate threads operating simultaneously is meant to show how the ghost/curse is passed on through time. The way it plays out, however, feels more like each of the stories don’t have enough substance to stand on their own. The editing jumps back and forth between each segment, but the characters aren’t developed to their full potential. Each of them have an intriguing beginning – a young couple dealing with new life, an older couple dealing with the end of a life, etc. – but they all end up taking a back seat to the supernatural elements.
Those elements, sadly, are not very effective. Once again, we have a horror film that seems almost intent to not be too scary (even though it has an R rating). We are subjected to scene after scene of jump scares and fake outs, where a character will slowly walk toward a noise only to get startled by some nondescript factor. And even when we do eventually get to see the ghost, the camera shakes so wildly, and the editing becomes so frantic that we can’t see what it looks like. Why spend so much time and effort on makeup and costume effects on your ghost if you end up refusing to show it?
The visuals are so damn dark that it looks like it was lit by a nightlight. The color palette is devoid of variation, just deep yellows and browns contrasted with overwhelming shadow. When any of the characters go investigating throughout the house, the screen becomes so pitch-black dark that we lose visual comprehension of everyday items (chairs, desks, tables). The problem persists even during day scenes – is it too much to ask these characters to open the drapes and let some sunshine in?
The “iconic” shot of The Grudge franchise is the ghostly hand appearing in the back of a person’s head while they are taking a shower. How is this meant to be terrifying? We should be grateful that a ghost would be willing to shampoo our hair for us.