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Holding a grudge against ‘The Grudge’

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It’s never a good sign when a movie is released in early January. Traditionally, that stretch of the calendar is reserved for the films that, for whatever reason, studios have decided to abandon. They’re done, so they might as well be released; however, they drop with little fanfare, abandoned to fend for themselves against the remaining December blockbusters and the expanded releases of late-season prestige fare.

On a related note, I saw “The Grudge.”

This film – a remake of the 2004 Sarah Michelle Gellar vehicle of the same name, which was itself a remake of Takashi Shimizu’s 2002 original – is the epitome of an early January release. It’s an unnecessary remake of a mid-00s ripoff of an excellent Japanese horror film; a copy of a copy of a copy means we’re losing a little coherence.

Or a lot of coherence, because there certainly isn’t much in this new movie, written and directed by the much-better-than-this Nicholas Pesce. The story exists only to prop up a bunch of stitched-together jump scares. There’s little in the way of thoughtfulness, just a formulaic paint-by-numbers meander through the narrative; there’s an attempt to disguise the rudimentary nature of the plot via back-and-forth timeline jumping, but that only serves to further obscure any possibility of the audience engaging.

In 2004, a woman named Fiona Landers (Tara Westwood, “By Dawn”) has left a job in Tokyo as a line-in nurse, fleeing an inexplicable weirdness. She returns to her home and family in Pennsylvania. It isn’t long before they’re all dead in a bloody tragedy.

In the aftermath, a young real estate agent named Peter Spencer (John Cho, “Searching”) is looking to sell the home, though he’s got troubles of his own: he and his wife Nina (Betty Gilpin, TV’s “GLOW”) are dealing with some difficult news. But he gets embroiled in the mysteries surrounding that house.

So too do the couple that moves into the house in 2005. Faith Matheson (Lin Shaye, “Get Gone”) is suffering from dementia and being cared for by her husband William (Frankie Faison, TV’s “The Village”) – but the shadows move for them as well.

In 2006, a police detective named Muldoon (Andrew Riseborough, “The Kindness of Strangers”) moves to town with her young son and is partnered up with Detective Goodman (Demian Bichir, TV’s “Grand Hotel”), a troubled had-drinking cop still haunted by his investigation of the Landers case, though not so much as his former partner.

All of this springs from the titular “grudge,” a paranormal curse that comes when a person dies in the midst of expressing a terrifying rage. Their spirit lives on, seeking to vent its unending anger upon anyone that crosses its path.

And … that’s it. That’s the movie.

“The Grudge” isn’t good. At all. There’s little to recommend it, very few redeeming qualities. The plot is threadbare and riddled with holes; jumbling the chronology only serves to make everything less coherent. Keeping track of where and when you are on the timeline is difficult and, to be frank, not worth the effort. And there’s something genuinely off-putting about a movie that is so packed with jump scares; it’s like a bully trying to make you flinch by continuously lunging at you. Eventually, it loses whatever effectiveness it might have had and becomes actively irritating. Even the gorier, visceral stuff is mostly meh; aside from a couple of moments, it’s all quite unmemorable.

The cast is far better than a movie like this really deserves. Riseborough is the closest thing this movie has to a protagonist; she does OK with what the movie gives her. Ditto Bechir, whose twitchy, paranoid weirdo would be nice to see in a better movie. And John Cho really needs to talk to his agent – he’s definitely better than this. Although to be fair, he gives it his all rather than phoning it in. Shaye is suitably creepy and Gilpin doesn’t get nearly enough to do. Faison is fine, while folks like Jacki Weaver and William Sadler show up to get strange and/or gross in a couple of scenes.

Ultimately, the biggest issue with “The Grudge” is that it isn’t scary. Or fun. Or remotely interesting. It’s a horror movie that feels like it was written by a slightly dim bot with little understanding of the genre or why what works works. There’s very little here that feels the least bit organic; the film is a series of checked boxes presented as a narrative. It never clicks, with even the most shocking of shocking moments barely registering. It’s as disposable as they come.

Here’s the thing: “The Grudge” is going to make money. It’s effective counterprogramming; niche-oriented and relatively cheaply produced. It doesn’t have to be a blockbuster to turn a profit. It also doesn’t have to be good … which is a good thing, because this movie definitely isn’t.

In the end, you probably won’t hold a grudge against “The Grudge,” but that’s only because you’ll almost certainly forget about it quickly and completely.

[1 out of 5]

Last modified on Tuesday, 07 January 2020 12:43

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