Sarah Michelle Gellar
1 Hr., 32 Mins.
The Grudge October 29, 2019
he Grudge (2004), a dim-witted and suspenseless haunted house movie, doesn’t do anything right. Its protagonists are impressively dull — they almost swat their intuition away as if it were a mosquito. The movie is set in Japan, and features a cast of characters almost entirely encompassing white Americans studying abroad. Yet it thinks not at all to underscore the obvious and definitely-there scariness of
navigating unfamiliar land. The all-important haunted house is boring to look at and be in. It’s basically an empty bungalow with nothing by way of character. And the ghosts — here a tall and slender woman with long black hair and a silent and wide-eyed little boy — look like scenery-fillers in a dilapidated haunted-house attraction a high school organizes for the last week of October to raise money for new football uniforms. They’re just emoters caked in white makeup and kohl, making creepy noises every so often to mix things up. Most egregiously, The Grudge wastes Sarah Michelle Gellar, an emotionally mature performer who in the film imbues her shapeless final-girl character the kind of intelligence we realize has entirely to do with Gellar’s presence, not the writing, which is too one-noted for emotional gradation.
You’d think a movie terrible on about all levels would make for an almost-colonoscopic experience. In the finicky horror genre, it’s not uncommon to conclude early on while in the thrall of a particularly bad exercise that you’re going to almost certainly be miserable for the next hour and a half. But I wasn’t miserable while watching The Grudge: I had fun. The film is like a quickly written beach read transparently made to make money. Yet even if it's certifiably inept on many levels, you’re lassoed in anyway.
That has mostly to do with the story, which is told nonlinearly and would be so confusing without having watched all the film (even then) that we’re for all intents and purposes manipulated into caring about what goes on on a surface level. The film circles around a very-tormented house in Japan that will kill anyone who steps inside it. The protagonist of The Grudge is Karen (Gellar), an exchange student hired to care for its latest owner (Grace Zabriskie), who mostly just stares at the walls and cries. After Karen’s been in the house long enough, and suffers through a traumatic and near-fatal run-in with a spirit (this is all hinted at in the prologue, which includes a suicide), the movie jumps around in time. It journeys back to what happened before Karen swung the front door open, eventually getting us to the root of the home’s affliction.
There’s a cynicism underneath the structure of The Grudge. It seems to have been constructed not to add emotional layers or invite us to see from different perspectives but to maneuver us into believing that this is all very thoughtful and layered. But this is just Rashomon (1950), bad American horror movie-style — a piece of botchery that might actually be more suspenseful if linearly told. We’d agonize, with progressing fear, over whether the curse that has befallen this anonymous-looking property would ever come to an end. The achronological storytelling just assures us that, yes, this haunted house is haunted, and has been for some time. It'll probably stay that way. It also thwarts what might have been a consequential-seeming explanation. Here, it’s just chintzy and to my tastes anticlimactic despite all the visual and sonic kerfuffle. The film takes the cake for a gratuitously convoluted final explanation scene. Mostly, The Grudge just comes to stick around in our heads as a plodding series of jump scares made watchable by Gellar. The film is an adaptation of a 2002 movie made by the same guy, Takashi Shimizu. I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard that, like its American counterpart, it’s nothing much. C