spoilers. i went into this film thinking it was directed by the same guy who did ringu, i was wrong. this is done by someone different, but the films are remarkably similar. there’s a lot about this film and the similarities between the two films to comment on and i’m not sure i’m going to get to it all, but here it goes…
the most obvious correlation between ringu and the grudge is that both are japanese horror films with american remakes. in the case of ringu the remake is directed by verbinski and is better than the original. in the case of the grudge the remake is directed by the same person and i’ve yet to see the american version (with sarah michelle gellar) so the jury is still out on that one. both have a fairly similar style, but then again so does “suicide club” which is another japanese horror picture that came out recently. it’s interesting to see how different countries come out with a wave of good pictures of a certain type during a certain era. during the 80s there were several good spanish horror films, right now there seems to be a good number of iranian dramas coming out, in the 30s germany produced a good number of fine expressionist films, etc. there’s a scene in ringu when the girl crawls out of the tv which is really creepy and part of its success comes from the way the girl is crawling – very low to the ground, inhuman, almost spiderlike. this film uses the exact same scare tactic, but in this film the woman is crawling down the stairs. actually, this was done even earlier in the uncut version of the exorcist. the grudge steals another technique from ringu – when some of the characters are seen on security cameras or have their pictures taken, their image is distorted. i suppose it’s been done before ringu, but i was working off the premise that these were directed by the same guy. the rest of the film is just about equally derivative. there are all sorts of individual shots and scenes that may not have been taken directly from previous films, but, to use a euphemism, are part of the established horror film lexicon. in this sense the film was a disappointment – individual shots throughout and the ending in particular were all in films you’ve probably seen if you’ve seen a good sampling of horror stuff. like i said before, it’s not that the director is directly ripping off a shot from this or that film, but a lot of it was stuff that had already been done before; and when i go to see an independent japanese horror film i go hoping for something outside of the mainstream.
this isn’t to say that the film is bad or doesn’t have its strengths. there are several genuinely creepy moments within the film. shimizu is able to create a feeling of claustrophobia throughout the film and periodically cashes in on this to good effect. unfortunately sometimes the execution feels a bit reserved, other times it falls into the “been there done that” category which i talked about earlier, and sometimes elements of the film are simply lost in translation. there were a few moments when the crowd in the theater (it was a pretty healthy contingent considering the film has been out for a while and it was a 10:40 show) laughed at something that wasn’t supposed to be funny.
as the film wore on i realized it wasn’t going to blow me away and it wasn’t going to leave me as terrified as i had hoped. so i naturally started thinking of the film on levels beyond the visceral terror. in a way the film could be construed as a social commentary, and this is one reason why i’m especially eager to see what changes are made to the american version. the film begins with a sadistic father slaying his wife, his cat, and, presumably, his son. as a result the house becomes haunted and the family which inhabits the space afterward starts getting picked off by ghosts one by one. each person who gets involved with the family or with the case surrounding their deaths also gets picked off one by one. there are strong elements of isolationism (people hiding in their rooms with windows covered, hiding under their sheets, etc.), but at the same time there seems to be an undercurrent against helping each other. let me explain – no one is spared in the film – the people who run are killed, the people who try to help others are killed, etc. typically in horror films there is some way out – either stay a virtuous virgin or take a stand against evil or know how to kill the zombies or whatever; but that’s not true in this film. the social worker at the beginning of the film goes to the house to help with an elderly woman, but as a result of her good intentions several people die. a police officer who tries to burn down the house also is killed. his daughter, who goes to the house with her friends because they heard it’s haunted, flees the house because she feels uncomfortable. her friends die at the house and, later, so she does too, despite having the presence of mind to get the hell out of there. in other words, it’s a pretty pessimistic film. i thought there might have been commentary on the isolation within japanese society, but there is no alternative offered so i don’t know how well that idea hold up.
overall the film had some moments, but wasn’t as consistently entertaining or scary as it could have been.Watched in theater