The Movie Waffler New to Netflix - THE GRUDGE | The Movie Waffler

New to Netflix - THE GRUDGE

the grudge review
A police detective investigates a series of murders linked to the same house.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Nicolas Pesce

Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Demián Bichir, Lin Shaye, John Cho, Betty Gilpin, Jacki Weaver, William Sadler

the grudge poster

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, horror fans around the world embraced a new wave of genre films coming out of Asia, and the inevitable wave of American remakes soon followed. But even beyond the direct remakes, Hollywood horror was immensely influenced by this movement, with female ghosts with twisted limbs and long dark hair becoming a staple that quickly wore out its welcome. An attempt to revive the fad with 2017's Rings, a belated entry in the Ring franchise, proved moderately successful at the box office, despite its awful reviews, so it seems an audience still exists for this most played out of sub-genres. Despite the presence of a filmmaker with a distinctive vision in Nicolas Pesce (The Eyes of My Mother; Piercing) and a suprisingly talented cast, this latest addition to the Grudge series is as redundant a sequel/reboot as any we've seen in recent years.

The Grudge franchise began with a series of shot on VHS chillers made by Japanese filmmaker Takashi Shimizu at the turn of the century. In 2002, Shimizu coalesced his early films into the polished production Ju-On: The Grudge, arguably the best movie to emerge from the 'J-Horror' movement. Shimizu was subsequently invited to Hollywood, where he remade that film, along with directing a sequel. Minus his involvement, a third American chapter followed in 2009. Pesce's The Grudge serves as something of a sidequel, its events taking place in between those of Shimizu's two American films.

the grudge review

The lore of the Grudge series involves a curse that forms when someone dies consumed with rage or sorrow. In case you weren't aware of that, it's explained here no less than three times, once in opening text and twice in exposition heavy monologues, one of which is delivered, of course, by an asylum inmate.

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A prologue takes us back to Tokyo, 2004, where American nurse Fiona Landers (Tara Westwood) is swiftly leaving the cursed house of the original film, having experienced a vision of regular series spook Kayako Saeki (Junko Bailey). On her return to the US, she finds she has brought the curse with her, resulting in the murder/suicide of her entire family.

the grudge review

Two years later, police detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough) has returned to work at a new post in the same town, three months after losing her husband to cancer. Along with her new partner, detective Goodman (Demián Bichir), who similarly recently lost his mother to the disease, Muldoon is called out to the discovery of a decomposed body, which seems to be tied into the same house where the 2004 killings occurred. Goodman refuses to go anywhere near the house, but Muldoon insists on conducting her own investigation. She soon begins to fear that something malevolent has latched onto her, putting herself and her young son in danger.

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What Pesce brings to this otherwise pointless late series instalment is a melancholic atmosphere that's unexpected from the sort of mid-range studio horrors usually dumped into cinemas in January. It's a borderline depressing film, with its two cop leads both haunted by their recent losses, and a colour palette that reeks of decay.

the grudge review

A subplot seen in flashback involves an estate agent (John Cho) assigned to sell the cursed house, and succumbing himself to its unwanted attentions. What makes this all the more grim is that his wife (Betty Gilpin) is pregnant with a child they've been told will likely have mental deficiencies. Add another subplot based around a husband's (Frankie Faison) desire to euthanise his mentally ill wife (Lin Shaye) and you have a movie that's attempting to deal with some decidedly weighty issues.

But for all its heady intentions, The Grudge is yet another example of a Hollywood studio hiring a filmmaker with a unique voice and then stifling them with commercial constraints. The bleak atmosphere Pesce creates is broken every 10 minutes or so by a mandated jump scare, along with some ill-judged comic beats (a shockingly brutal scene is distastefully followed by a close-up of someone chopping up a carrot - groan). Pesce has assembled a cast of the sort of quality that's generally absent from this sort of fare, and they're all trying their best, but neither Pesce nor his actors can elevate this far too familiar material. Pesce is attempting to play the system, and more power to him, but ultimately, when it comes to working in the confines of commercial American cinema, the house always wins.

The Grudge is on Netflix UK/ROI now.