Sarah Michelle Gellar and the supernatural go together like peas and carrots, to borrow a phrase from our friend Forrest Gump. The starlet’s signature role had her slaying vampires as Buffy Summers. We all know what Gellar Did Last Summer, but did you recall she also enjoyed a bit part in Wes Craven’s Scream 2 and appeared in both Scooby-Doo movies?
By this roundabout logic, Gellar seems a natural fit for The Grudge, Takashi Shimizu’s sufficiently creepy remake of his own cult Japanese horror flick Ju-on, a film he’s made versions of a shocking five times now. Americanized and aimed squarely at the people who turned The Ring into a surprise hit, Grudge should satisfy audiences seeking a few cheap jolts for their dollar this Halloween season.
Few actresses can furrow a brow or bug their eyes better than Gellar, who gets ample opportunity to do both as Karen, an exchange student living the post-collegiate lifestyle with her grungy boy toy (Jason Behr). Karen passes time between class working for a Tokyo-based hospital care center. Her first official case finds her knocking on the door of a home possessed by the angry spirit of a husband who died while harboring a grudge. Rumor has it – or so we’re told – that when a person passes away before they can properly expel their rage, a curse can form that victimizes anyone lucky enough to come in contact with it. Sounds hokey, but it works in context, and that’s all we can ask.
Getting the original director to helm a remake doesn’t always work – check out George Sluizer’s conflicting versions of The Vanishing to prove that point. Yet Shimizu combines better elements from several of his Ju-on installments (there are two plot points worth mentioning) to make a decent hodgepodge of ideas here. One involves a teacher (Bill Pullman) who learns of an unfortunate crush. The other centers around that creepy Japanese boy from this film’s trailer, who’s absolutely terrifying no matter how many times we see him open his mouth wider than the Grand Canyon and screech like a banshee.
Predictable things make us jump in Grudge. We see a tub full of water or an attic filled with cobwebs, and we know scares are coming, but Shimizu startles us all the same. Though the acting is routinely bland – Gellar is particularly deadpan in a role that begged for more – the decent effects serve the story. Grudge even tells its haunted house story in reverse, which keeps us engaged when things start moving too slow. Shimizu’s deliberate pacing is off for a 97-minute movie. But there’s more than enough mood to drip down and fill the gaps created by the film’s non-linear storytelling method. It ain’t Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but it will have to do.
Review by Sean O’Connell © 2004 filmcritic.com