The Grudge (2020) review: horrifyingly disappointing

The Grudge adds virtually nothing to the already inferior American adaptations of the J-Horror phenomenon.

At one point, back in the noughties, it seemed like there was a mad craze for adapting Asian horror cinema for Western audiences. Beginning with the unexpected commercial and critical success of Gore Verbinski’s The Ring (based on Hideo Nakata’s Ringu and Koji Suzuki’s 1991 novel), the remake trend only grew but sadly not in quality. As pale imitators like The Eye, One Missed Call, Shutter and The Uninvited poured in, one of the most successful was The Grudge in 2004. Based on Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-On: The Grudge (2002), this remake was also directed by Shimizu and went on to earn mixed reviews but a near $200 million haul worldwide. Naturally a sequel followed in the puzzling The Grudge 2 (also from Shimizu) and even worse straight-to-disc film The Grudge 3. I mention this history for two reasons. One because this new film simply titled The Grudge was initially a reboot of the series but has become what we call a “sidequel” apparently, set both before and during the other movies (confused yet? I am!). And two, because – like 2017’s Rings – this is a continuation that falls dispiritingly flat.

The main story, set in 2006, concerns ambitious rookie detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough), who moves closer to town with her young son, following the loss of her husband. In need of a fresh start, she soon finds herself on an investigation that leads down a dark path, as all leads point towards 44 Reyburn Drive, a house with a dark history, that her new cop partner Goodman (Demián Bichir) knows all too well. As the nonlinear narrative jumps back and forth, we see this history play out back in 2004 and 2005 respectively, as Muldoon delves deeper into her investigation and the darkness that lies within.

Like the earlier films, this new The Grudge is backed by Sam Raimi but make no mistake this is not an interesting reboot-cum-follow-on like, say, 2013’s Evil Dead. Earning the rare ‘F’ CinemaScore rating (the 20th ever to do so) from audiences, a rating generally reserved for the out and out dreadful or the fiercely divisive, The Grudge is not controversial, so much as utterly disheartening. Attempting connections to the previous American takes on the Japanese Ju-On franchise could have proved ambitious and interesting but this new film ultimately serves as a futile reminder of how ineffective such fare has been. If anything this new one doubles down on such disappointment! The Grudge is unforgivingly drab, as writer/director Nicolas Pesce’s film has nothing to add to any previous film or the lore itself.

The grey and dull cinematography does not really conjure up much in way of scares and the film’s take on iconic horror ghoul Kayako Saeki is equally unimpressive and even reduces her chilling death rattle to little more than a tiresome groan. The narrative leaps across its multiple stories being told and following any moment of promise, you then get long stretches of routine scare tactics or little more than mostly ineffective imagery, which has been seen and done countless times before. The film has no new tricks up its sleeves but that’s not really the problem, the problem is that it hasn’t even got the energy or enthusiasm to pull out the old tricks with any flair.

Save for one or two gnarly gory scenes, this is a largely toothless affair and the biggest sin here is the absolute waste of one hell of a talented cast and crew. Raimi’s backing, a promising fresh filmmaker in Pesce and an excellent cast comprised of Riseborough, John Cho, Betty Gilpin, Jacki Weaver (the film’s best performance) and the most wasted of all in Lin Shaye. Hell, even The Newman Brothers score, which peaks at select points, is mostly buried beneath the loud sound scares and dreary atmosphere.

The Grudge could have breathed new life into the franchise and set a course for an interesting future, instead it only shows why it has been over 10 years since the last one.

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