Director/Screenplay – Nicolas Pesce, Story – Jeff Buhler & Nicolas Pesce, Producers – Taka Ichise, Sam Raimi & Rob Tapert, Photography – Zachary Galler, Music – The Newton Brothers, Visual Effects – Alchemy 24 (Supervisor – Simon Beaupre), Bluetrain Studios (Supervisor – Andrew Degryse), Metaphyx (Supervisor – Luke Saviotti) & Skullery VFX (Supervisor – Culley Bunker), Special Effects Supervisor – Jason Wilkins, Makeup Effects – Lindala Schminken FX (Designer – Toby Lindala), Production Design – Jean-Andre Carriere. Production Company – Stage 6 Films/Ghost House Pictures.
Andrea Riseborough (Detective Muldoon), Demian Bichir (Goodman), John Cho (Peter Spencer), Jacki Weaver (Lorna Moody), Frankie Faison (William Matheson), Lin Shaye (Faith Matheson), William Sadler (Detective Wilson), Betty Gilpin (Betty Spencer), Zoe Fish (Melinda Landers), Tara Westwood (Fiona Landers), Dave Brown (Sam Landers), Joel Marsh Garland (Detective Greco)
In Cross River, Pennsylvania, police detective Muldoon and her partner Goodman investigate after a badly decayed body is found in a car in the forest. Muldoon sees Goodman react after the body is connected to 44 Reyburn Drive. She finds that this is an address where Goodman and his previous partner had investigated other deaths. She goes to the address and enters the house to meet a strange old woman. In digging into the case files, Muldoon learns of how a ju-on – a curse that infects everyone it comes in contact with – was brought back from Japan in 2004 and then haunted and killed everyone who entered the house, including the aged couple living there, a psychic who visited, the realtor and Goodman’s partner.
The Ju-on/The Grudge series has led to no less than thirteen films to date. The series started with segments of the tv movie School Ghost Story G (1998). Director Takashi Shimizu expanded on the basics he had created there with the video-released films Ju-on (2000) and Ju-on 2 (2000). This was followed by the theatrically released Ju-on: The Grudge (2003), which became an international hit, and its sequel Ju-on: The Grudge 2 (2003), both from Shimizu. To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the original films, two further films of an hour long apiece were commissioned and released simultaneously with Ju-on: Girl in Black (2009) and Ju-on: Old Lady in White (2009). There was a further theatrically released reboot Ju-on: The Beginning of the End (2014) and its sequel Ju-on: The Final Curse (2015), plus Sadako vs Kayako (2016), a crossover with the Ring series, and the tv series Ju-on: Origins (2020).
In the midst of this, the rights to the Ju-on series were brought up by Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures and it underwent an English-language remake with The Grudge (2004), rewritten to star Sarah Michelle Gellar and with Takashi Shimizu imported as director. This was sufficiently successful that it spawned a theatrically-released sequel The Grudge 2 (2006) also from Shimizu and then the Shimizu-less The Grudge 3 (2009), which was only released to dvd. The Grudge here is a reboot of the English-language series again produced by Raimi and Ghost House Pictures.
I felt zero enthusiasm for The Grudge. It was the revival of a franchise that nobody asked to see. Moreover, it was the revival of a franchise that you feel has creatively exhausted all possibilities it had with nine full-length Japanese films and three American-made ones. What else was there for such an over-mined idea to do but keep repeating itself?
The distributor apparently had little enthusiasm for The Grudge either and dumped it into general theatrical release around the world in the first few days of January 2020. This is a time that most distributors regard as a dead zone – it is just after the cut-off awards season for and the height of the North American winter where few people brave the inclement weather to go to the movies and attendance is usually down.
On the other hand, the film did have a promising director in Nicolas Pesce whose debut film The Eyes of My Mother (2016) I found to be an extraordinary work that promised great things. In between, Pesce made Piercing (2018) about a man attempting to kill a prostitute, which failed to emerge as interesting as it sounded. Certainly, based on Pesce’s work on The Eyes of My Mother, I greeted The Grudge with more promise once his name came up on the credits than I had when I sat down to watch.
Pesce co-writes with Jeff Buhler who also wrote the worthwhile likes of the Clive Barker adaptation The Midnight Meat Train (2008) and the amazingly twisted The Prodigy (2019), as well as created/produced the George R.R. Martin adapted tv series Nightflyers (2018) and directed the horror film Insanitarium (2008), although on the less enthusiastic side has also been behind the universally disliked remakes of Jacob’s Ladder (2019) and Pet Sematary (2019), plus Studio 666 (2022).
Nicolas Pesce and Jeff Buhler make an effort to return to the non-linear storytelling that Takashi Shimizu used on the Japanese films. The plot jumps back and forward in time following different people who are affected by the ju-on. The film threads these together in more of a narrative way than Takashi Shimizu ever did and creates an unfolding mystery.
On the other hand, I did have sympathy with the distributor’s dumping of the film. The main problem with it is that Pesce’s pace is slow and uneventful. He shoots much of the film in a honeygolden light, which might be fine for an intimate human drama but seems a world away from the colour palette adopted by any of the other Ju-on/The Grudge films. Things seem to take forever to happen. There are occasionally some interspersed shocks – but far too few of them – and a few more towards the end. Even then Pesce simply does nothing remarkable with any of these, let alone anything that we have not seen in any of a dozen horror films before.
Ghost House Pictures has also made the likes of Boogeyman (2005) and sequels, The Messengers (2007), Rise (2007), 30 Days of Night (2007), Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell (2009), The Possession (2012), Don’t Breathe (2016), The Unholy (2021) and the remakes of Evil Dead (2013) and Poltergeist (2015), as well as the tv series Legend of the Seeker (2008-10) and 13: Fear is Real (2009).