There’s a moment in The Grudge when one of the characters implores another to “just burn it down.” He was talking about a haunted house, but, reader, it became my mantra for the whole film.
Nicolas Pesce is the latest director to tackle a remake of Japanese horror classic Ju-On (2002). The premise — the same as the original and all of its progeny, and thus a bit stale if you’ve seen, well, any of them — is that someone who dies in a rage comes back with a grudge that inspires him or her to kill anyone who steps into the place where they died. Blah, blah, blah.
And that’s pretty much it. The original was powerful because it was the first of its kind. It also effectively turned the haunted space — a nondescript but sinisterly dreary gray house in Tokyo that makes a cameo in this film — into its main character, which allowed storylines to flow through it as other characters encountered its malevolence. Pesce’s tedious version brings everything together through a main character, Detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough, The Death of Stalin) — a grieving widow with a young son — who’s looking for a fresh start. Instead, she finds a gross body (fine, the gory FX are pretty cool, whatever), and then some more gross bodies.
Natch, they all lead her back to a house where a family was murdered after their mother, Fiona Landers (TV actress Tara Westwood), inadvertently brought back a special souvenir from her travels abroad — a vengeful Japanese ghost. Our haunted house is in a nice, suburban neighborhood that‘s inexplicably cut off from the rest of town, only accessible via a creepy unpaved road outfitted with some creepily placed streetlights. Totally normal.
Muldoon’s partner, Detective Goodman (Demián Bichir, The Hateful Eight), had worked the Landers murder case — but somehow had done so without ever stepping inside the house. (He had “a bad feeling,” OK?!). His unlucky former partner, Detective Wilson (William Sadler, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey) — and, no, none of these characters have first names — did go into the house, because someone had to investigate the crime scene, and was driven insane. Over the course of the film, more people also go inside the house, and (surprise!) things don’t go well.
I don’t know why or how this predictable, plodding film got made. The most surprising thing about it is how weird some of the editing is. That’s not a reason to see it, by the way. It has talent behind it — the actors are all more than capable (though their characters never get to develop). And then there’s Pesce, who, back in 2016, made the very good and startlingly violent The Eyes of My Mother, a movie I won’t soon get out of my head. The Grudge, on the other hand, is now taking valuable space up there with it and can leave as quickly as possible.