You would think that with an ex-vampire slayer, a haunted house, and a menagerie of angry spirits, The Grudge would be a nightmarishly scary, right? Wrong—and too bad, because even with all the proper elements for a terrifying movie experience, The Grudge can't fully deliver.
Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame, The Grudge is the Americanized version of the Japanese original, Ju-On: The Grudge, which was released in 2003. Gellar is Karen, an American nurse living and working in Tokyo, who is exposed to a horrible curse that haunts the home of one of her patients. Known as "the grudge,” the curse causes its victims to die in the grip of a powerful rage; when those afflicted by the curse die, a new curse is born, ensnaring all who enter the house into an intense, continual circle of terror. When Karen learns the secret of the house and is exposed to the curse, she decides to stop it and attempt to end the cycle of death.
The Grudge certainly does not live up to its full potential, but it's not for lack of effort on the actors' part. Gellar and the other main actors in the film—Jason Behr (of the TV series Roswell) as her boyfriend Doug, Ryo Ishibashi as Detective Nakagawa—give it everything they've got, petrified faces and all. In particular, it is Gellar that carries the movie on her slender, tough-as-nails shoulders. Watching her, it is easy to remember how she flourished as Buffy, and she slips so easily into the role of girl-under-attack that you almost expect her to glorify her Buffy days—pull out a stake and start slaying demons, left and right. Gellar's fine acting skills, however, keep both the character and the plot in their own well-crafted universe.
However, it is the culture of Japanese horror that doesn't translate well onto screen in The Grudge. The entire premise of the movie is based on nuanced and well-developed scare tactics, not American in-your-face gross-outs. Unlike other horror movies that rely strictly on a bash ‘em, slash ‘em approach, The Grudge is more psychological—it gets under your skin and makes you think, even in the most ridiculous of ways—for example, a meowing little boy, anyone? Or a little dead girl that looks suspiciously like the one from The Ring? The creepiness and sheer eeriness of the Japanese horror style are present in The Grudge, but for some reason, just don't cause for a high level of fear.
Despite good acting, psychological thrills and effects that will send chills down your spine, The Grudge's specific style lacks a fully terrifying experience. No need to lose sleep over it, however, as a sequel is already in the works—predictable music, CGI ghosts and all.
The Grudge (96 minutes) is rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, disturbing images, and some sexuality.
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