Growing up in the 90s I was a high schooler by the time the Japanese horror remake craze set in bringing us classic adaptations like “The Ring” and, of course, “The Grudge”. While the latter is often viewed as the inferior of the two remakes despite being led by the Japanese original’s director, I still personally found it to be an engaging horror experience. So when I heard a reboot/sequel was in the works (technically the fourth film in the franchise) my interest was piqued but after “The Ring” got it’s own attempt at revival with 2017’s underwhelming “Rings” I also knew to approach this movie with caution. The fact that it’s the first major wide release film of 2020, in the month of January where many studios dump the films they have the least faith in, didn’t exactly help. So does this reboot/sequel breath new life into this staple of the 2000s? Let’s find out in my first review of 2020, “The Grudge”.
Is it too early to name this one of the worst films of 2020 even though it’s the first movie of the year? God was this movie bad. “The Grudge”, which takes place from 2004 through about 2007 as an indirect side story loosely connected to the original series, is an absolute snore fest of the horror movie and one that I’m quite shocked turned out as bad as it is. Directed by Nicolas Pesce, a promising horror filmmaker who previous films “The Eyes of My Mother” and “Piercing” were both well respected, and starring the likes of Andrea Roseborough, Demián Bichir, John Cho, Betty Gilpin and perennial Scream Queen Lin Shaye, “The Grudge” brought with it a lot of promise in its cast and crew alone and yet the result was a lifeless, soulless, scareless mess that made little effort to keep my attention or try anything new or fun with its concept.
The movie explores idea of bringing “The Grudge” curse to American soil and adapts the same non-linear storytelling techniques as the previous films, showing us a main story involving Andrea Riseborough’s Detective Muldoon while previous victims of the curse on the home she is investigating are explored in flashbacks. While I can’t speak for all the sequels as I checked out of the franchise before the third film, the first two movies used this non-liner concept effectively to confuse the audience while weaving what was an intriguing and unsettling story. This new “The Grudge” does none of that sticking pretty solidly to horror conventions and formulas that worked in the previous installments, even at times downplaying unique ideas that worked in the past in favor of more formulaic ones. To cap it all off nobody seems invested at all. Every actor comes off as bored and it really feels like this was a paycheck gig for almost everyone involved. Those who do feel invested are so over the top and awkward that it left me wishing they would settle into the wooden acting of the rest of the cast. Simply put, the performances were either unbearably bad or incredibly dull…sometimes accomplishing both.
But the most important element of any horror movie is obviously is it scary? Absolutely not. This new “The Grudge” claims to up the ante by being rated R instead of PG-13 like its counterparts but does little to nothing with that designation save for a few gratuitous moments that were clearly more fan service than actual attempts at horror. There’s very little suspense as most of the story beats are either poorly developed or cliché, the ghosts are so underutilized that at times it’s even hard to know who the demons really are, and worst of all it feels uninspired. Director Nicolas Pesce tries to do some neat things in terms of style from the darkened color pallet to the use of silence and sound to generate scares, but a lot of its feels gimmicky rather than artsy. One of the most annoying tricks incorporated into the film is sudden jump cuts, sometimes from one scene to another and other times only literally mere inches away from where the camera was before. This is done, I assume, to unsettle the audience and play with their expectations especially if you’re paying attention to the background. In a better horror movie this could have been a neat touch, but here it only serves to make the final product feel awkward and choppy, not scary and strange. It’s just an all-around misfire of a film in every way that fails to establish proper atmosphere, lacks any coherent or interesting story elements and is just downright dull.
I’m going to make this simple. “The Grudge” reboot is a mess. While the original American remake was no work of art it was interesting, creepy, unsettling and easy to invest in on a certain level. This is none of that. The plot is boring and uninteresting, the flashback gimmick feels dated, the director’s special touches to try and add something unique to the film feel out of place and ineffective, the cast is completely phoning it in and, worst of all, this is not a scary movie. The original film for all its flaws accomplished more to keep me on edge and entertained than this movie even tries to accomplish and the original was a PG-13 horror movie filled with 2000s flair proving that just because a new horror film is rated R and made in the more sophisticated horror climate of today does not guarantee it will be any good. The only thing this movie does is give me a grudge to hold against everyone involved for even thinking this was a passable film.