It’s a story as old as time itself: a furious husband, of some remote Tokyo hamlet, hacks his wife up only to have her return as a pallid, crawling poltergeist. While its eccentricities may appear novel, Takashi Shimizu’s “The Grudge” is hardly original. An oozing grab bag of recycled horror movie vignettes, the movie plays like a mix tape that draws halfheartedly from recent films like “The Ring.” Yet, while “The Ring” offered a surprising jolt of fresh fear, “The Grudge” is annoyingly derivative and shoddily constructed. Didn’t Sarah Michelle Gellar learn her lesson from “Simply Irresistible?”
The majority of “Grudge’s” scanty scares are those that haunt the theatrical trailer. In the dark confines of a North Haven theater, that husky movie trailer voice croaks, “When someone dies in the grip of a powerful rage, a curse is born.” What follows is a creepy montage of gaunt ghosts and Sarah Michelle Gellar looking concerned and afraid. If only the actual movie could manage to inspire such mild fear. Sadly, “The Grudge” — an American, and therefore more boring remake of the Japanese original — fails to delve into a deeper story than that of its mediocre trailer. Maybe the quality was lost in translation.
To be fair, the movie does provide a handful of genuine scares. Gellar plays Karen Davis, an American college student abroad in Tokyo for the purpose of petty social work and cheap plot development. Sharing an apartment with her Urban Outfitters-mannequin boyfriend (Jason Behr, most likely of some forgettable show on the WB), she is a caretaker for nearby residents. Fortunately for her, at a nearby ghoul-laden house a fellow twenty-something social worker meets a hissing ghost in the attic with an appetite for na•ve-caretaker flesh. Congratulations, Karen, you’ve just earned yourself a new gig.
As the movie continues to plummet into the abyss of B-movie Hell, things get more confusing. Before any of Gellar’s escapades even begin, for example, the audience sees a bewildered Bill Pullman leave his bed and topple over his apartment railing, becoming Pollock-esque dZ
The same goes for the subplot involving the house’s original residents, Matthew and Jennifer. The married couple moves into the home with Matthew’s mother (inexplicably catatonic), and they all meet their end, ambiguously, by a meowing ghost-boy named Toshio, who Gellar finds in a taped-up closet on her initial house call. The subplots, woven throughout the main storyline, are superfluous and irritating.
Even worse is the dominant ghost, the queen of the rotting bevy of ghouls, Kayako. She is nearly identical to the girl from “The Ring,” to the point that it seems like a marketing gimmick. Kayako crawls around the house, murdering whoever enters it, hiding her gaping mouth behind a silky curtain of black hair. For those unfortunate visitors who inherit the curse, she tracks them down — apparently in the form of whoever she wants — and manages to kill them by making a disconcerting throaty clicking sound in their face. Unlike the audience, the victims are plagued by terror.
“The Grudge” isn’t a terrible movie, especially in comparison to its B-movie peers, but it isn’t a good one either. At times, it offers inventive cinematography and a decent scare here and there. Yet nothing is quite as terrifying as how mundane its climax proves to be.
Left bewildered and confused by leviathan plot gaps and comic inconsistencies, the poor writing and confusing assemblage of scenes might haunt one’s mind for days. At least the girl from “The Ring” would have had the courtesy to crawl from the screen and end your misery.