Set to hit theaters January 3rd, 2020, The Grudge introduces us to Detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough), who investigates a gruesome backroads murder at a house that is no stranger to death. Unlike Ju-On: The Grudge (2002) and the American version, The Grudge (2004), this installment takes place outside of Japan, instead reacquainting us with any American suburb where horror can instantly take over.
We chat with director Nicolas Pesce to uncover the vision behind his unique contribution to the franchise. Read below to see how this self-proclaimed fanboy of genre films pays homage to the past—and introduces us to the future of The Grudge.
Dread Central: What attracted you to this project?
Nicolas Pesce: I was a big fan … I am a big fan of the original, especially the original Japanese films, all the Ju-On films. As Hollywood started making more reboots and remakes, I saw an interesting opportunity with The Grudge franchise. Because at least in the Japanese series, the stories are not sequels of each other, but it is an anthology. Every movie is a different family, different crime, different stories. And I thought there is great opportunity to not be bound by making a remake or a reboot, but just making a new Grudge film, a new series of characters, a new crime.
What’s awesome about The Grudge is that it is very rules based, every rule of thumb key that the second you walk into the house, you’re grudged. It is kind of chaptered, and the stories are out of order. It’s non-linear. We could take all those characteristics that were kind of continuous throughout all The Grudge films, but make it our own story and not be ruining The Grudge. It is just another installment in The Grudge story and The Grudge mythos. So I thought that seeing a more interesting way to invigorate the franchise, and here we are.
DC: Is this film tied to the Japanese spirit of the original film?
NP: I think that I am not trying to make an Americanized J-horror movie. I think that as a fan of J-horror movies, a lot of that stuff is baked into me and baked into my sensibilities. In a lot of the ways the late 90s, early 2000s were doing a lot of things to try to remake the J-horror movies, or at least using what has become popular from the J-horror movies, there’s definitely nods to that stuff. And we even go so far as referencing the original Japanese case that started the franchise. But we are not trying to make a J-horror movie. I am definitely trying to do my own thing with a little bit of J-horror peppered in there.
DC: Could you tell us how the reboot connects to the original film?
NP: I don’t want to tell. That is too spoiley!
DC: Fair enough! What are some of your favorite Japanese horror movies?
NP: I love the Ju-On films. I’m a huge fan of Takashi Miike, and I think that Audition is one of the greatest movies ever made. And I think that the way that Japanese horror kind of blends so many tones, there’s some really fucked up shit. And there are some moments of levity and humor. Particularly in the case of Takashi Miike, you could be laughing at something horrifying and not understand exactly how you are supposed to feel. I like that kind of incongruity and emotion in a film like this. I think Hideo Mikata has made some great movies. I think there is a tone to the original Ju-On movies that are really lo-fi and makes it grounded. It makes it feel like a home movie that ghost just happen to be featured in. And that spirit has very much influenced how we are handling this movie. Not only in its aesthetic, but making it feel more grounded, like real life and making it less of a concept world and making it feel like this stuff is happening to your next door neighbor right now. I think that there is an immediacy to a lot of the J-horror stuff that does that. I like that.
DC: With this being your first studio film, do you find it easier or more difficult than you thought?
NP: It’s been great. I’ve been fortunate in that Sony and Good Universe, the production behind this, are super supportive behind my vision for the movie. Coming from indie movies, this is great. I have more time, more people. On an indie movie, yes, you have a different level of control, but the elements are less in your favor. Now, it’s like, I didn’t really have to compromise creatively. And, I’m getting to do all of the tricks and fun things that I wanted to do, but just more support. It’s been great. It’s been easier than I would’ve anticipated. At least for me in this experience, there’s this notion that going from indie to studio movies, you’re going to give up control, you’re going to have a million cooks in the kitchen, but on this, like I said, they were pretty supportive. I come to all this stuff first and foremost as a fanboy. So, I’m as hard on myself about the material and just horror in general. Everyone has been super supportive.
DC: How has it been filming here in Manitoba?
NP: The movie takes place in any suburb of any city in America. There’s a quality to Winnipeg that we found kind of the rundown sections of suburbia. There is so much open space. I used to live in New York City, and I was never afraid of ghosts because you could walk across the hall and there’s like 400 people there. And if you screamed, maybe because it’s New York, no one will help you. But if you see a ghost, there are a lot of people around. But I grew up in the suburbs of New York, and when you’re in the middle of nowhere and something happens or your mind is playing tricks on you, it is far more terrifying to not have people around, to not have neighbors within close reach. I think that Winnipeg has given us an awesome texture of the suburbs that feels a little more spacious, a little more desolate and a little darker.
DC: Can you talk about your approach to the horror?
NP: It’s definitely grizzly. But it is much more about the aftermath than the act of violence. I’ve always very much believed in that an audience’s mind is going to make everything way scarier than anything I can do with make-up or on screen. For me, this movie is about the audience putting pieces together, and filling in the gaps themselves. Whether it is a story beat or violence, we don’t really show any of the violence, but we show you what happens afterwards and what it looks like when it is all done, and it allows you to feel in the gap in your own unique way. You kind of make the story for yourself and the imagery for yourself. I always go back to Reservoir Dogs and the ear cutting off scene. It’s actually like a really bad camera move away from the ear being cut off. But everyone always remembers seeing that ear get cut off. That’s like the best filmmaking you can do.
DC: Can you share your use of practical effects instead of going full CG?
NP: For me as an audience member watching movies, no matter how good the CG is, there is a quality to it. Not that you can tell that it is not real, but there is something in you that can tell that that is not there. To me, the fun of horror movies is the practical effects. I think that the original Grudge films, their ghosts are a woman in kabuki make-up. And she’s a contortionist. She’s doing all those things down the stairs. And there’s so much more charm, and it is so much more effective, when the thing is there that is lit by the same light on the actor, and it’s not a ghost. It just feels so much more tactile.
Whether it’s the ghost or the gore, nothing feels better than real life. And now, it’s not the 80s anymore with like wax, bad prosthetics. We can do things that look incredibly realistic. And I think that it is just a more guttural reaction for the audience. And in terms of the ghost, I think that so much of our conception of the ghost and the designing of the ghost went into thinking about how do we do something practically that is just as frightening as you would be like, “It’s just easier to do in VFX.” Let’s go there practically and see how far we can push it. When we get into our full on ghost mode, we’re dealing with really elaborate, animatronic prosthetics that people don’t really do anymore.
To me, my taste in horror lies in the more vintage stuff. So, there are bits and pieces that pay homage to the bigger and more campy stuff of the yesteryear of horror, then also stuff that is brutally realistic. Then getting to play in that world is much more my taste. It’s fun for me to get to play with masks, and figuring out how to shoot it rather than, “We’ll fix it in post and make it scary. Don’t worry.” Hopefully, the end result is going to be far scarier.
DC: Thank you so much for your time. We are looking forward to watching this film.
NP: Thank you.
The Grudge stars Demian Bichir (The Nun), Andrea Riseborough (Mandy), John Cho (The Exorcist series), Lin Shaye (Insidious: The Last Key), Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook), Betty Gilpin (Glow), William Sadler (Power), and Frankie Faison (The Good Wife).
Synopsis: A house is cursed by a vengeful ghost that dooms those who enter it with a violent death.
The Grudge is set to hit theaters January 3rd, 2020.
Stay tuned right here on Dread Central for more updates on The Grudge!