Reviewed by Gareth Jones
Starring Hiroki Suzuki, Ichorota Miyakawa, Natsuki Kasa, Koji Seto, Kuniteru Shigeyama, Kana Tsugihara
Directed by Ryuta Miyake and Mari Asato
Distributed by 4Digital Asia
The once effective Japanese import of long-haired ghosties went out of favour amongst horror fanatics quite some time ago, riding an endless wave of shitty American imitations and poor quality offerings from their home shores. Now, one of the most successful of these franchises – Ju-on (The Grudge) – has a couple of brand new entries landing on UK DVD in the form of the double-feature Ju-on: White Ghost and Ju-on: Black Ghost (or Ju-on: Shiroi rôjo and Ju-on: Kuroi shôjo respectively); and unfortunately they prove that this endless curse has finally outstayed its welcome.
The first tale, White Ghost, is directed by Ryuta Miyake and follows the story of a high school girl named Akane (Akina Minami). Akane is known by her fellow students as having psychic abilities, and when they coerce her into playing with a Ouija board, she catches a glimpse of a ghost who looks very similar to her as a child. Taking on the series’ trademark fractured chronology, the film also transports the viewer back and forth between Akane’s childhood friendship with a young girl who lived in the cursed house from the original films and a few other people who come into contact with this iteration of the curse.
Most of the real action takes place in the past, ignoring the recurring characters of Kayako and her family (Toshio shows up to meow for a few seconds) in favour of an Amityville 2-inspired possession/murder angle. This murder is what has spawned the new grudge and led to the creation of one of the single worst entities to land in the series – the basketball-wielding ghost granny. Before the film gets to the nitty-gritty of what went on in that house, it runs like a series of tiresome scare vignettes, all staged almost identically and ending with the basketball granny running into the camera to (supposedly) scare the bejesus out of you. It’s all so predictable though, and the granny ghost so laughable, that you’ll begin to wonder if this isn’t meant as a parody.
In the end, though, things turn around exceptionally well in the final 20 or so minutes (both of the flicks on the DVD run around an hour each) as it all falls into place, including an absolutely brutal and sickening child murder. The staging is an amazing example of how less is more. Once we get involved with a couple of cops discussing the murder in the present day, the film starts to meet the same kind of uneasiness that the first one achieved with some solid sound work and that wonderfully oppressive atmosphere that just seems to suck the air from the room. While the final scene may break canon somewhat (long time fans of The Grudge will likely call bullshit quite loudly), it’s ultimately a satisfying entry. Whether it truly deserves to fit within the Ju-on universe is debatable, but the new approach is novel and the storyline sufficiently engaging to make it acceptably worthwhile in the end.
The same can’t be said about the sister entry, Black Ghost. This one, directed by Mari Asato, has barely any elements resembling the establishing franchise entries – coming across as more of a Japanese reimagining of The Unborn than anything else. Plot-wise we follow Nurse Yuko (Ai Kago), charged with the care of patient Fukie (Hana Matsumoto). Bad things happen to anyone Fukie comes into contact with, including her own father, while Yuko also finds her own acquaintances meeting sticky ends.
When a cyst is found in Fukie’s stomach, it becomes apparent that it is actually the remnants of her unborn sister – filled with rage at being refused life, she curses all of those around her. In the end, Fukie’s mother enlists her younger sister to perform an exorcism to drive out the entity. Things don’t quite go to plan, however, as the story goes off on an even worse tangent, leading to an ending that will have you wondering just what the hell any of it had to do with the Ju-on franchise except for Fukie, in her possessed rants, and the black ghost that wanders around performing Kayako’s signature throat-click noise. This raises a question as well…since when did EVERY ghost in the franchise make Kayako’s sound? It’s a cheap tie-in attempt and ultimately lazy and inexcusable.
The meandering story and legless pacing make the whole affair of Black Ghost feel far longer than the 60-minute runtime. A few impressively freaky images only help to sporadically keep you awake until the exorcism, which features some pretty nifty special effects; but it all falls apart afterwards as it descends into uncharacteristic gore with stomachs being punched out and various splatter. An early scene sees the black ghost repeatedly pounding a victim’s head against a bloodied wall for no particular reason than to have some bloody visuals. It stands very out of place for the series.
So, a couple of new approaches to the world of Ju-on. The first is an uneven, but ultimately worthwhile entry that fits nicely amidst the canon of the cursed house. The second is, quite frankly, barely acceptable crap that scarcely has a place within the franchise. Since this is a double-feature, the final score combines both movies.
In terms of special features, we have a selection of trailers for 4Digital Asia releases. Nothing special at all.
2 1/2 out of 5
1/2 out of 5
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