Directed by Takashi Shimizu
The Ju-On/Grudge movies are probably the most subjective horrors ever made: They either work on you or they don’t. Personally, I can’t think of a scarier experience than that of the first four Japanese films. Takashi Shimizu’s avant-garde series unleashed the kind of nightmarish imagery that re-defined what horror could do, and while it wasn’t needed, the U.S. Grudge remake holds up as an effective (if slightly over-produced) “greatest hits” reel.
With The Grudge 2, Shimizu has created an original film that attempts to expand on the entire franchise, but tragically, his talents fail him here. Perhaps it was inevitable after so many trips to the well.
The sequel picks up where the last film left off: Sarah Michelle Gellar (does anyone even remember her character name?) is confined to a Tokyo hospital, driven mad by her previous encounter. Before you can shout “Yu-rei!”, croaking Kayako and son Toshio reappear and quickly dispatch everyone’s favorite vampire slayer within a matter of minutes (as spoiled in the trailer along with most of the other scares). From here, The Grudge 2 splits off into two completely different films:
The first is your thankless sequel-by-numbers plot involving Gellar’s sister, played by sour-faced actress Amber Tamblyn as she slowly figures out everything we learned in the last film. Worse yet, she encounters and interacts with some of the same visions and flashbacks, making The Grudge 2 seem like a bad clips show at times. Of course, several more unrelated characters enter and exit the cursed house, all of which are dispatched in predictable fashion. The only new addition comes with a brief glimpse into Kayako’s past, which would’ve given the film some real weight if it weren’t for the fact that it’s quickly swept under the rug and never addressed again.
More interesting is the second running storyline based in North America, which follows a Chicago family and their encounter with strange events in their apartment building. It is here that G2: Grudgement Day finally addresses the lingering question: What would happen if the curse spread overseas? The set-up here is intriguing, resulting in some moments of inspired weirdness and tension as the building’s tenants are slowly driven insane by strange supernatural activity. There’s a noticeable tension and atmosphere, mainly because it feels as if Shimizu & Co are building to something new and truly frightening. Unfortunately, this subplot is undermined by the main story, appearing at random intervals before the whole thing is sent out with a hasty wrap-up.
To his credit, Shimizu directs with confidence and avoids the usual flash and fackery found in most modern horrors. The blame falls more on the ho-hum screenplay by writer Stephen Susco, who adapted the first American film. Left to his own devices, Susco comes off as a bad imitator: He re-hashes the same old tricks, fumbles with the loopy structure, and completely fails to expand on new ideas, while Shimizu himself seems content on simply crafting the visuals. You have to give the director credit for sticking with his brainchild, but his decision to leave his creation in the hands of another screenwriter is perplexing, especially since these American characters are every bit as blank as the victims in the Ju On series.
While it’s far from a catastrophe, The Grudge 2 feels like a worn-out racehorse; a collision between East and West that never fully materializes. Even die-hard fans will agree: It’s time for Shimizu to put this thing to bed and move on to better projects.
And for another point of view in full-color comic style, don’t miss
Rick Tremble’s take on the film in Motion Picture Purgatory!