Bill Pullman and Sarah Michelle Gellar in Columbia Pictures' The Grudge - 2004
Photo Copyright Columbia Pictu
A grudge can be a truly terrifying thing. Deep-seated rage, like the rumbling volcano, can erupt with deadly consequences. Like the time I took the dogs for a ride in my wife's car and they chewed up the gear shift. She won't forget that soon. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, this week's film has nothing to do with the frightening implications of one of my wife's grudges. In fact, it has less to do with frightening implications, and more with giving Sarah Michelle Gellar the chance to Buffy around Tokyo while a pair of tenacious ghosts do the grudging.
Gellar plays Kare Davis, an American exchange student going to college in Tokyo. When Kare, who does nurse work for a local care organization, is asked to fill in for a missing colleague, little does she know that she is about to step into world of terror that can scarce be believed. Also scarcely believable: the plot. Told in flashback and flashforward, The Grudge has only the thinnest of narrative threads to hold it together. It basically boils down to the fact that anyone who comes into this particular house, site of a grisly murder/suicide years before, will be preyed upon by scary ghosts. Not because these would be victims had anything to do with the murders, and not because they've committed any moral sin, but just because. Without a coherent story to hold it together, The Grudge is reduced to little more than a series of disconnected "scary" scenes, some actually scary, some not. And, as the ghosts who are wreaking havoc on the lives of Gellar and crew, have no real beef with those they are terrorizing, the title The Grudge seems less like a creepy-cool moniker and more like a poor Japanese translation.
One of this film's claims to fame is that it is supposedly remaining true to its source material. Originally a Japanese horror flick called Ju-On, The Grudge wins points for bringing the original director on board to helm the English language remake, unlike, say, The Ring, which handed the reins over to Gore Verbinski. Unlike The Ring, however, this film makes almost no sense and, aside from having some nicely rendered special effects, has almost nothing to offer the viewer in the way of story, performance, or theme. One has to wonder what the original version of this film was like. Was it just as incomprehensible, considering it has the same director, or did the studio simply say "Fine. You've got your name on the movie. Now sit back and keep your mouth shut while we tell you how this thing's going to go." Speaking of The Ring, one thing Grudge has in spades is Ringesque atmosphere. Creepy pseudoelectronic noises, jerky corpse walking, little girls with long black hair, the list goes on and on. Now, either someone is trying to cash in, or ... no, someone's trying to cash in.
The Grudge is rated PG-13, and this brings me back to my ever-present "grudge" (you like how I did that?) against the ratings board. It used to be that all horror flicks were rated R. At least, this has been true since the establishment of the ratings board. I have no idea how movies like Frankenstein or The Wolfman were policed, but in that gentler time there was less need. Now we routinely show people with gushing blood and missing limbs, not to mention every imaginable form of death. For this reason, it makes sense that such films were restricted to those who could handle them. Ah, but there's money to be made, and we certainly can't deny the thirteen and up crowd the chance to see Sarah Michelle Gellar, can we? After all, that's who we hired her for, isn't it? As a result, we now make movies like The Grudge and The Ring available to kids just barely out of the Saturday morning cartoon phase. Why do we allow the marketing arms of the studios to buy our children's innocence? Do we really want them to grow up sooner, become jaded and cynical before their time, to become sensitized to violence and horrible death? Or have the movies become, like the schools, a convenient form of daycare? And it's not like the MPAA has just gotten softer. Ratings are routinely loosened for highly marketable films while the same standard is not held for films that are less so. Movies like The Station Agent which actually have something real and positive to say are left with an R for a few instances of language, while The Grudge is free to make a mint off our kids. Also, I hate, hate, having to go to movie, an experience I pay handsomely for, and then have to sit by while a group of pinheaded teenagers decide that this, their third time in attendance, is going to be amusement park day for everyone in the theater. The lovely pack of fifteen-year-olds that I watched the movie with spent the time throwing Skittles at each other, an activity that failed to enhance my appreciation either for them or the film. Keep in mind, I don't object to scary movies, horror movies or violent movies. I simply object to offering the same to children, and then subjecting adults to share the theater with them. The title, The Grudge, may not make sense in and of itself, but you can be sure I left the theater with plenty to be grumpy about. Grade: D+
The Grudge is rated PG-13 for violence, horror, language, and some gore. Fun for the whole family!
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