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Horror movies share a lot with comedies. Good timing, atmospheric music and unintentional stupidity by the lead actors are all required for both.
Perhaps that’s why Nicolas Pesce, director and screen-writer for the new Grudge movie decided to cast John Cho (yes, Harold from Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle) in this reboot/sidequel of the 2004 remake of the 2002 Japanese original Ju-On: The Grudge.
And that’s about the extent of the good decisions made in the making of this movie. Right off the bat, in this critic’s books, a reboot is headed through rough waters. Even the first remake was mediocre and this felt like the faded Xerox copy of a photocopy.
The movie starts off with live-in nurse Fiona Landers (Tara Westwood) leaving a house in Tokyo and returning to America before encountering the ghost of Kayako Saeki (Junko Bailey). Fiona arrives at her home on 44 Reyburn Drive, reuniting with her husband Sam and daughter Melinda before the ghost possesses her and the usual hijinks ensue.
We then cut to 2006, where rookie detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough) moves to town with her son Burke (John J. Hansen) following her husband’s death from cancer. She starts working with Detective Goodman (Demián Bichi) and they are called to the woods, where assisted suicide consultant Lorna Moody’s corpse has been discovered.
Goodman becomes uncomfortable when they learn that Lorna had been visiting 44 Reyburn Drive. Noticing this, Muldoon questions him, and he reveals his suspicions the house is cursed and he wants nothing to do with it.
The rest of the story is told in non-chronological order through several different storylines, all with the same grisly ending. We meet real estate agents Peter (John Cho) and Nina Spencer (Betty Gilpin) as well as elderly couple Faith (Lin Shaye) and William Matheson (Frankie Faison) who encounter 44 Reyburn Drive in different ways and are haunted by a smorgasbord of ghosts of people who continue to die there.
It’s dull, predictable and except for a few jump-scares, nothing truly haunting happens. And yet, I can’t entirely blame the script for that.
One of the biggest tragedies of the high definition era has been the horror movie. The most iconic horror movies have left about half the scare factor to people’s imaginations. All too often, it’s what you don’t see that will scare you the most. Jaws, The Blair Witch Project and Saw all relied on shadows and our own imagination to scare us. Not to say that there weren’t horrifying images, but even before that, our hearts were beating with a familiar sense of dread overcoming us.
In recent years, with the advent of computer generated imagery (CGI) technology, we’re all too often seeing more of those scary monsters, killers, or ghosts, to underwhelming effect. CGI is often jarringly obvious, at best, and comical, at worst.
Let’s take the shower scene with the ghostly hand that was shown in the trailer. The CGI of course is obvious but the impact is diluted when we see that it seems to simply be helping Peter apply shampoo. That’s the villain of this movie, ladies and gentlemen – the shampoo spectre of ‘soap’-landia.
And then there is the climax. It is supposed to be building to a great showdown between good and evil, and yet I found myself yawning when I should have been trembling or excited. All in all, it was a sorely disappointing movie with a handful of jump-scares. And for that, it earns its 1.5 stars.