2002’s Ju-On: The Grudge was one of the key movies in taking ‘J-Horror’, or Japanese horror, into the international mainstream. Along with The Ring, it made lank-haired, silent girls the primary cause of crapping your pants in the cinema in the ‘00s. This is now the second American adaptation (the first was in 2004). That in itself is no particularly bad thing. The original’s simple premise offers scope for plenty of different interpretations. The disappointing thing about The Grudge 2020 is that it does little new and recycles the best bits of the previous films, with diminishing returns.
In the original, a house was haunted by the furious spectres of a woman and her son, who were violently murdered within its walls. When someone is murdered in fury, so the film’s lore went, a curse is created inside that house and will consume anybody who enters. This story begins with a woman leaving that house and bringing the curse back to America. She arrives home and horribly kills her husband and daughter. And so the curse spreads.
A little while later, a new cop in town, Detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough), is drawn to that house following the discovery of a dead body, its rotting face locked in a scream. Everyone tells her to stay away, but she is intent on discovering its secrets. She will come to regret it.
Nicolas Pesce (The Eyes of My Mother) uses the same multiple timeframes structure as the 2004 movie, jumping between them to show how the curse persists. As well as Muldoon’s timeline, we see the Spencers (John Cho and Betty Gilpin), a couple expecting a baby, who sadly is likely to be born with a rare genetic illness; and the Mathesons (Lin Shaye and Frankie Faison), whose lives are afflicted by Mrs Matheson’s dementia. An assisted-suicide consultant (Jacki Weaver) is brought in to help Mrs Matheson on her way, but there’s going to be plenty of help with dying.
The interesting structure is, sadly, just masking some really tired material. There is a lot of regurgitation here, and not just from the ghosts. There are the signature Grudge moments – the hand in the hair in the shower; a woman crawling up the bed – but with no fresh spin. Then there are many things that have become modern horror cliche. A murky bath containing something horrible. Hiding in completely unsafe closets. Ghosts that just stand behind your shoulder and scream. That done-to-many-deaths spooky girl. When you can predict the scares, there’s no scare to be had. It’s a shame to see so many superb actors with too little to do. By far the most unsettling shot comes in the closing credits, which play over a long silent view of a house. It’s creepy because it feels like something might happen, but you don’t know what. It’s eerie in a way the rest of the film isn’t. But by that point most people will be leaving the cinema, hoping the next version of The Grudge might pull some new ideas out of its darker depths.
- Director: Nicolas Pesce
- Starring: Andrea Riseborough, John Cho, Jacki Weaver
- Release date: 24 January 2020