The Grudge (2004)

I have vivid memories of seeing The Grudge opening weekend with a friend of mine and finding it terrifying. It was a packed theatre and everyone was completely into it, making for a grand ole time at the cinema. Following that viewing I never went back to it, though I did experience a constant phenomena of recommending the movie to people, only to have them come back slightly baffled that I told them to watch it. Lots of “I don’t know, it was OK I guess” reactions. Was my memory of this movie off? Or no, was it all of them who were wrong? The time came to finally find out as I popped my neglected DVD copy of The Grudge into the player.

Full disclosure, I have never seen the Japanese original that they are remaking here, so I can’t say how faithful this adaptation is. I know it’s the same director, several of the same actors, and primarily the same story beats, so I imagine it sticks pretty close to the original. Only this version has a bunch of American actors living in Japan for...work? I think work.

I love that this movie throws a bunch of insane shit at you right up front with no context or explanation. Bill Pullman jumps off a balcony while his wife watches, a girl gets sucked up into a closet, and there’s a little kid ghost who meows like a cat and has wide, freaky eyes. It’s a ballsy move that could come off as ridiculous but I think it works, though it does give everything a very disjointed feel that never quite goes away.

The plot skips around between several different stories and feels more like a series of episodes than one cohesive narrative. There is hardly any plot to speak of other than “ghosts! why?!” The back story behind what’s happening isn’t all that exciting, which definitely leads to some slower patches where exposition is being delivered by a lot of very low key sounding actors. There is also an abundance of cheap scares, including a cat jumping out and scaring someone. I don’t know if I just don’t own asshole cats, but I don’t know what it is with movie characters and cats. They need to get slower, fatter cats that can’t jump out of anywhere, they can only plod around indifferently. Problem solved!

While the movie is definitely slower than I remember, the stuff that works still works really well. There’s a sequence around the midway point where the lady ghost harasses a character at their office. It starts with a phone call where we hear the ghost’s patented sort of burp/gurgle sound (which a lot of people find dumb but I find genuinely disturbing), followed by a quick glimpse of her jerkily crawling up the stairs towards this girl. Things just escalate from there, concluding with an image I remember haunting me for days. It’s the movie’s standout sequence and proves this movie is best when it’s avoiding the jump scares and just relentlessly unleashing scary imagery on you. It’s especially effective if you’re like me and have an intense fear of asshole ghosts who move all jerky. Not to mention there’s something terrifying about thinking you got away from a ghost, only to have it show back up and be all “naw son, still here”. Plus someone gets their jaw ripped off, so that’s always pretty beneficial to a movie I think.

The Grudge is a decent ghost story that is not quite as scary as I remember it. The pace is slow, but not as in as effective a way as something like The Ring. The performances are low key almost to a fault and the plot is minimal, but there are a handful of really suspenseful sequences and enough insane shit to make this worth a watch. There are two sequels that I remember watching but my only other memory is not liking them very much. Which means they are probably worth revisiting!