THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Asian horror films have caught on in America recently, where they find loyal audiences on video. The filmmaking style – which relies more heavily on disturbing images than blood and gore – has caught Hollywood’s eye as well. The Ring was a financially successful Americanized remake of a popular Asian horror film, and it appears to have opened the door for other remakes. The latest is The Grudge, a remake of a picture called Ju-On. Director Takashi Shimizu made both versions. The premise of the movie is that whenever someone dies in a state of rage or sorrow, the emotions linger, creating a curse that consumes anyone who crosses its path.

Sarah Michelle Gellar plays Karen Davis, an American exchange student in Tokyo. She does some part-time work for a home health care facility. Her job takes her to the home of Emma (Grace Zabriskie), an older woman who appears totally shut off from the rest of the world, almost as though she is shell-shocked. While at the woman’s house, Karen notices some strange goings-on, including a mysterious little boy who communicates more with noises than with words. There is, of course, something supernatural in the house – or more accurately, in the upper corner of the attic. That is where Emma keeps staring. Karen witnesses something coming through the floorboards and she too falls into a dark hypnotic state.

Other victims of the curse are Emma’s daughter Susan (KaDee Strickland), her son Matthew (William Mapother) and his wife Jennifer (Clea DuVall). In a parallel story, a professor (Bill Pullman) commits suicide, which may have something to do with the curse. Ryo Ishibashi plays Detective Nakagawa who, like Karen, believes that there’s something evil lurking in the home.

The Grudge is packed with sublimely disturbing and horrific images. Although some are clichéd (like creepy children), the film puts a unique spin on them. Here, the little boy doesn’t just stand ominously in the background. No, his eyes blacken, his face stretches, and he meows like a demonic cat. We also see recurring visions of a girl with long, flowing hair that hides the tortured expression of shock on her face. Perhaps the most startling image, shown widely in the film’s advertising, is of a set of fingers protruding from the back of Karen’s head while she’s in the shower. Shimizu proves himself to be a master at creating ominous, insanely creepy images. The Grudge is a virtual treasure trove of the macabre. The movie’s visions of horror pack an undeniable punch.

The problem, however, is that the story falters badly. The explanation for how the curse was formed doesn’t come until the last ten minutes. By that point it’s too little, too late. When it does come, it makes sense, but we’ve spent so long being in the dark that we have no emotional investment in anything that’s going on. In other words, when the horrific visions aren’t backed up by a story we can get involved in, they seem meaningless and random. Had we known the origin of the curse earlier, it might have created real tension – a reason to care about what would happen to Karen and the others or, more importantly, a reason to be legitimately scared.

The obvious film for comparison is The Ring, which also had an abundance of creepy images, yet it also had a taut story depicting the lead character’s investigation into the mysterious videotape. That was enough to pull us along from one frightening moment to the next. The Grudge is so amazing to look at that some might even be able to forgive the fact that the plot never kicks into gear. But I cannot. The Grudge is an interesting exercise in visual style, and nothing more.

( 1/2 out of four)

The Grudge is rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, disturbing images/terror/violence, and some sensuality. The running time is 1 hour and 34 minutes.

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