THE GRUDGE (2020) Review – Nothing To Rage About

Starring Andrea Riseborough, John Cho, Lin Shaye, Demián Birchir, and Betty Gilpin

Written and Directed by Nicholas Pesce

Happy January, everyone! It’s that magical time of the year where the haze of eggnog and mirth begins to part and the cold air of reality comes rushing in to ferry us back to the land of depression and drudgery. Nothing quite like that first cup of office coffee after a week of home-cooked meals and love! And what better way to herald in the return of our worries and woes than with the time-honored tradition of January releases. Oh Hollywood, and here I thought you were dropping all the bags you had zero confidence in. I had no idea you were actually masterfully tapping into millennial’s collective ennui. How very progressive.

It’s a rather harrowing way to start my review for The Grudge (2020), but I’m of the opinion that reviewing a January movie without recognizing it’s a January movie is fundamentally dishonest. This is the time of the year we get The Bye Bye Man, not Doctor Sleep. The American The Grudge (2004) franchise is 16 years old at this point, with The Grudge 2 being the last theatrical release in 2006. The Grudge 3 was a home video release you probably didn’t see, and would be right at home on a DVD collection of, “40 Scary Ghost Movies TOO EXTREME FOR THEATERS!!!!” It’s not exactly a hot IP at this point. So when everyone saw that there would be a new The Grudge sequel/reboot coming out a decade later in January, there was an obvious pall of doubt around the project.

So, is all the doomsaying warranted? Or is this the exception that proves the rule? Unfortunately, it’s not really either. The Grudge (2020) is that most unenviable type of horror flick: mediocre. It’s about 30% better than I expected. Which is 40% too high for “so bad it’s good,” and 40% too low for “so good it’s good.”

Taking place during the events of The Grudge (2006), The Grudge (2020) feels more like a spinoff than an actual sequel/reboot. Similar to the original films, The Grudge (2020) follows several characters during different periods of time. Through these three (four of your stretching), we get three different perspectives on how the curse evolved and ruined/ended these people’s lives. The film never mentions the main characters of the previous films, but it does root itself in the same events that spawned the curse. It’s still the same Kayako murdered by the same husband in the same house in Japan. If you go into the house, you get grudged. This causes you to pop ghosts out of your brain until you die.

Now, the thing about reboots is that they are supposed to serve as an introductory point to new audiences. You include just enough references to the original to keep the nerds happy, but mostly you’re trying to capture a new generation of walking bank accounts. With Pesce’s The Grudge (2020), it’s bizarrely reliant on the original. If you don’t understand Kayako’s sticky rage ghost backstory, I don’t know how you’ll suss out what’s going on. Fans will clearly see plenty of ripples of things they know, but newcomers best get ready for a very vague and confusing ride.

I actually want to applaud Mr. Pesce for his decision, since it’s certainly not the typical over-explanation you get from a January horror release. While it might be confusing to new audiences, Pesce focuses on the minute by minute action, letting the events set their own stakes. There are plenty of points where the film will subvert your expectations, playing at following a cliché before swerving in a different direction. Unfortunately, it’s all offset but an extremely blunt ghost flashback towards the end that felt like the worst kind of studio meddling. In fact, whenever The Grudge (2020) is actually bothering to spell things out, it’s so blunt and artless that it practically feels penned by a box-ticking algorithm.

Speaking of the stakes, Mr. Pesce also deserves credit for creating the most violent The Grudge film to date. I was pretty shocked when I saw they were going for an R-rating for a franchise best known for giving screaming teenagers an excuse to grope each other. But for an R-rating they went, and they went there hard. The Grudge (2020) has ample blood and disturbing gore that even sent me wincing in my seat. There were a few moments I was shocked they actually went that far. It’s nothing as graphic and genuinely taboo as Mr. Pesce’s The Eyes of My Mother, but it’s certainly bolder than your standard sterilized studio horror affair.

Unfortunately, these good elements I’m pointing out don’t elevate The Grudge (2020) past mediocre. Pesce’s directorial style made a bad film decent. The man isn’t a miracle worker. The greatest problem is that The Grudge (2020) just feels so inconsequential. It doesn’t add anything to the existing cannon other than a few more dead bodies. It’s just another The Grudge film, which stopped being interesting in 2002. The formula is more of a carnival ride, leading you from spooky death to spooky death while various ghosts pop out. The films hamfisted attempts at characterization do nothing to improve this, with such classic motivations as, “I have a kid,” and, “I have a kid, but smaller.”

In the end, I wish that they had leaned into the interesting bits. Just make a The Grudge movie where no one is trying to solve the case or protect their kid. Just make it an anthology film where five different unrelated people that never meet all get fucked up by a ghost. Or maybe a group of deplorable bank robbers who fight back a little more than crying in a closet. Or make Kayako infects a batch of cursed molly and let her run wild at a rave. I mean shit, it’s not like the series is sacred or something. They already had her fight the ghost from The Ring, in 3D. Even if it’s stupid, people still remember Sadako vs. Kayako four years later. No one will be thinking about The Grudge (2020) in just four weeks.

  • Film


There’s enough to like in The Grudge (2020) to make it better than the two previous sequels. That being said, it does nothing to elevate this dead IP out of the quagmire it presently resides.

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