The Grudge (2020) Review
A CURSE THAT HAS
RUN OUT OF CINEMATIC GAS
In 2004, American audiences were introduced to the supernatural horrors in the movie The Grudge, which was a remake of the 2002 film Japanese horror feature Ju-On: The Grudge. Directed by Takashi Shimizu, the film, which is presented in a nonlinear narrative, tells of “The Grudge”, a curse that is born when someone dies in the grip of extreme rage or sorrow, with the curse is an entity created where the person died and those who encounter this supernatural force die, and the curse is reborn repeatedly, passing from victim to victim in a endless chain of horrors. Despite receiving mixed reviews from critics, moviegoers found The Grudge to their liking, with the project garnishing roughly $187 million at the box office against its paltry $10 million production budget. The success of the movie also opened the doors to future installments, with The Grudge 2 in 2006 and The Grudge 3 in 2009; both movies received mixed to negative reviews. Now, more than a decade after last film, Sony Pictures (and Screen Gems) and director Nicolas Pesce release the fourth entry in The Grudge series (acting as a soft reboot-ish of the franchise) with the release of the movie The Grudge. Does this latest installment revive the horror movie series for new audience or is it just simple “run-of-the-mill” rehash of the past?
After dealing with the loss of her husband, Detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough) has decided to move and her son, Burke (John J. Hansen), to a small town in Pennsylvania with the hopes to restart her life and work through her mourning. Partnered with seasoned Detective Goodman (Demian Bichir), Muldoon is immediately introduced to horrors when a dead body is discovered in the woods, and one with ties to a special haunted house in town. While Goodman dismisses any criminal connection between the two, Muldoon goes with her hunch and decides to investigate the history of the house, discovering it to be the site of a brutal family murder a few years back. Entering the creepy domicile to suddenly meet with the current resident, Faith (Lin Shaye), Muldoon is exposed to the Grudge, a terrifying and fatal curse that infects the senses before it takes a life. Gradually understanding her personal haunting, Muldoon learns of others poisoned by the same evil energy, left without hope to stop it and break the cycle of the Grudge.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I’ve mentioned before in several review posts for horror movies, I really haven’t been much of a horror fan. Again, not really my “cup of tea” to watch motion pictures of gory, violence, and bloody deaths, but I’ve started to recent come around to viewing several of them. I’ve even like some of them; praising their atmospheric ghoulish presentation and haunted storytelling. So, who knows…I’ve starting to become a fan of these features. I do remember seeing The Grudge a year or two after it come out. Of course, I’m talking about the 2004 version and not the original 2002 Ju-On: The Grudge. Personally, I thought that the movie was okay (again, wasn’t the hugest horror movie fan), but, for what it was worth, it was decent enough, with plenty of scares that certainly ate up attention during the middle 2000s. I didn’t see the other two Grudge sequels until later one (like a few years back from now) and thought they were mediocre, with pretty much the same old nuances to the 2004, but built with a lesser degree.
This, of course, brings me back to talking about 2020’s The Grudge, the fourth installment in this franchise (at least in the US Hollywood iteration). To be honest, I really didn’t hear much about this movie (yes…that is the truth). I didn’t see any announcement about this film on the websites that I frequently visit for movie “buzz” news nor did I even see the film’s movie trailer for it on neither the internet or in my local theater “coming attractions” preview. To be even more honest, I came across the movie a week before its theatrical release as one of the first 2020 movies to be released. As mentioned before, I’m not much of a horror movie, but I’ve started to like a few recent hits; indulging myself in the supernatural spooks variety. Thus, I decided to check out The Grudge and see if the movie was going to be something that I liked. What did I think of it? Well…to put it simply…. it’s not great. Despite a few minor things, The Grudge is just a dated and meaningless entry in this franchise, which is hamper by its lackluster direction and storytelling. There are still macabre elements for those horror fans out there, but you’ll get better kicks by watching one of the earlier entries instead of this bland installment.
The Grudge is directed by Nicolas Pesce, whose previous directorial works include such movies like The Eyes of My Mother and Piercing. Thus, given this his third outing (in motion pictures), Pesces’s makes The Grudge to be his most ambitious and most Hollywood directional film to date. What I think Pesce does a good job is in staging some atmospheric nuances throughout the film; creating some ghoulish fun in a few certain situations that will definitely creep its viewers out, including a dash of grotesque moments. More interesting, however, Pesce tries to refresh up the franchise with a new hand at interweaving several narrative threads together. The result is quite of a mixed (more on that below), but its an admirable attempt to try something new and different to this fourth chapter in The Grudge series. Additionally, the movie, despite the many negatives that I’ll mention below, clocks in at around 94 minutes (one hour and thirty-four minutes), which is good as it keeps The Grudge on shorter time and gets the point (more often that not) due to this. Thus, Pesce never makes film feel bloated or doesn’t goes off on unnecessarily tangents side characters; keeping the narrative focused on the individuals that have come into contact with the supernatural presence.
In the technical filmmaking presentation realm, The Grudge looks good and definitely meets the so-called “industry standards” for a horror feature film, but nothing truly standout and / or memorable in the movie. Of course, the usage of practical effects shots certainly garnishes some attention, especially the ones involving the haunted spirts of the Grudge as well as some grotesque scenes, but those are few and far between. Thus, the various “behind the scenes” category team members that I usually take note of (i.e production designs, costumes designs, and cinematography) are simply “okay” in the movie. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as I wouldn’t say things look cheap and shoddy in the film’s background settings or filmmaking techniques, but, as I said, nothing feels quite memorable or remarkable in this realm. Perhaps the movie’s score, which was composed by The Newton Brothers (Andy Grush and Taylor Newton Stewart), provides some better moments in this technical presentation; offering up some ghoulish tense and suspenseful horror filled moments.
Unfortunately, The Grudge struggles to find its footing (cinematically speaking and storytelling-wise), with plenty of glaring and negative points of criticism that puncture the feature from start to finish. For starters, the film is jumble mess…plain and simple, with a narrative that feels haphazard to the touch and tries to extended itself within its own ambitious task. What do I mean? Well, the film’s script, which was penned by Pesce (pulling double duty on the movie) as well as Jeff Buhler, tries to layer the movie’s story / plot with interwoven character threads, especially those who have entered the haunted house and have been ensnared by its supernatural terror (i.e The Grudge). It’s a great way to sort of “refresh” and mix things upon in this horror franchise, but it becomes apparent that Pesce is ill-equipped to handle this ambitious storytelling task. In truth, the interlacing of all these narratives is greatly (and needlessly) complexed, with Pesce lacking the finesse to fully encompass the interconnecting / nonlinear storytelling the movie. This results in the film having a considerable pacing problem throughout the movie, which is weird because the movie is roughly one and half hours long, with Pesce meandering through the film’s events in a lackadaisical way.
Coinciding with this (and this is the more general term), the movie is downright boring. Sure, there are few points that the movie “perks up” with suspenseful horror burst, but a great majority of The Grudge is mundane and working; finding Pesce never truly making the film come alive; presenting a feature that’s more of snoozer than an enthralling horror flick. I saw the movie during the middle of the day at my theater (for a matinee showing) and it was just me and another person and he actually fell asleep (snoring loudly in the empty screening theater auditorium); passing out for a good twenty-five minutes during the film. So, you can I how “exciting” the movie was. In addition, the actual horror-filled moments are sparse and aren’t quite enticing as past entries in The Grudge series or even in similar horror movies. Sure, Pesce stages a few moments that definitely work, especially a few gross out moments, but those scares don’t happen quite enough and aren’t that creatively fun; offering up bland violent acts of horror that aren’t memorable of innovated to today’s standard of frightful images. Let’s not also forget that the film’s script (again, done by Pesce) is quite wooden and dull, with a lot of the story’s main events and character dialogue hampering the feature in a tedious and tasteless fashion. Plus, let’s also not forget that the most important criticism…. the simple fact that the movie exists. I know, I know…that sounds a bit harsh, but it’s the truth. The previous two Grudge movies were exactly the best and showed that the franchise needed to either end or come up with a new creative way. Unfortunately, this new entry in series offers little to revive interest in it; rehashing a lot of the same things that have previously been done (again, acting more of a remake than a part of the establish franchise). Plus, the final “surprise twist” that comes at the end of the film was bit predictable and I knew that something of this nature was gonna happen as Pesce sort of telegraphed this event, especially from a rushed climatic piece in the third act.
The cast in The Grudge is sort of a mixed bag, with the term “mixed bag” deriving from the okay performances (not great, but neither terrible) throughout, but the more disappointing in how these characters are written. This can be certainly said about the movie’s sort of main protagonist character of Detective Muldoon, who is played by actress Andrea Riseborough. Known for her roles in Mandy, Oblivion, and Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Riseborough is fine in the role of Muldoon, a recent single mother dealing with her husband’s death as well as the “wide-eyed” newcomer to the town where the film’s events take place. Thus, the set-up for her is quite clear, but comes off more as a cliché, with Riseborough’s performance not really developing the character of Muldoon in way beyond what the thinly-written script presents her to be. All in all, just another horror main protagonist that gets caught in a bad situation, with several backstories and woes to drum up in an unimaginative way. At least, young actor John J. Hansen (Country People and Heart Burn) does a better job in the role of Muldoon’s son, Burke.
Who fairs even worse that Riseborough is actor Demian Bichir, who plays the character of Detective Goodman, Muldoon’s seasoned new partner. Known for his roles in The Hateful Eight, A Better Life, and The Nun, Bichir is just simply a miscast in the role of Goodman. I certainly get what the writers were trying to with the character, but Bichir never really makes the character his own and ends up mudding the role throughout the entire feature. Thus, Detective Goodman is a flat, boring, and footnote character in The Grudge that simply doesn’t do much and doesn’t have much to offer, with the exception of expositional dumps here and there. Even the character talents of individuals, including actor John Cho (Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and Star Trek) as Peter Spencer, actress Betty Gilpin (Isn’t It Romantic and Stuber) as Peter’s wife, Nina Spencer, and actor William Sadler (The Shawshank Redemption and Iron Man 3) as Goodman’s old partner, Detective Wilson, can’t really drum up much excitement or even interesting performance within their respective characters in the movie, which is disappointing….to say the least.
Perhaps the only talent on the film that was indeed memorable in the movie was from actress Linda Shaye, who plays the role of Faith Matheson. While there really isn’t much to the character of Faith beyond the psychotic madness that has consumed her, Shaye, known for her roles in Insidious, Dead End, and Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, delivers a committed role for the character; creating a surreal scariness whenever she’s on-screen. The rest of the cast, including actor Frank Faison (One Life to Live and The Wire) as Faith’s wife, William Matheson, actress Jacki Weaver (The Voices and Stoker) as Lorna Moody, actress Tara Westwood (Detours and Almost Paris) as Fiona Landers, actor David Lawrence Brown (Burden of Truth and Charlie Bartlett) as Fiona’s husband, Sam Landers, actress Zoe Fish (Always and Forever Christmas and I Will See You) as Fiona and Sam’s daughter, Melinda Landers, actor Joel Marsh Garland (Orange is the New Black and The Last O.G.) as Detective Grecco, round out The Grudge’s minor supporting characters and, while these players give good performances in their limited capacities, their characters are still unmemorable in the film.
A supernatural threat comes into contact with several individuals; affecting (and haunting) their lives to the point of madness and death in the movie The Grudge. Director Nicolas Pesce’s latest film sees the return of the once popular horror franchise for another entry; acting as side-story to the established series timeline as well as a “point of entry” for newcomers. Unfortunately, the underwhelming fanfare of the film is quite apparent and delivers a boring feature, especially a thinly-written story (that’s both confuses and frustrates), tedious subplots, terrible pacing, bland characters, mediocre performance, and just a lackluster presentation in both direction and scares. Personally, I thought that this movie was boring, uninteresting, and really didn’t need to be made. There were scary parts that I liked, but those were few and far between the bland generic ways the feature was handled…even by horror movies standards. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is solidly hard “skip it” as there’s really no point (narrative-wise or as an entertainment) and just offers same old, same old rehashing of what’s been done before, including from its own franchise. In short, 2020’s The Grudge is just a painfully mundane and terribly pointless horror remake / sequel endeavor that does little to invigorate interest in this horror series. Basically, let the past die as The Grudge (in all its storytelling formats) has certainly run its cinematic course and most definitely run out of supernatural gas.
2.0 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: January 3rd, 2020
Reviewed On: January 16th, 2020
The Grudge is 94 minutes long and is rated R for disturbing violence and bloody images, terror, and some language