“Ju-On: The curse of one who dies in the grip of powerful rage. It gathers and takes effect in the places that person was alive. Those who encounter it die and a new curse is born.” So we are told at the beginning of Ju-On: The Grudge, the latest in a string of hit Japanese horror films making their way to American theatre screens.
Rika (Megumi Okina) is a volunteer social worker whom, upon entering a bed-ridden woman’s home, discovers a closet that has been taped shut. Breaking the seal, she inadvertently unleashes a curse on herself and those she comes in contact with including a friend and a police detective. But can the curse be broken?
Like many horror films coming out of Japan, Ju-On relies more on mood than gore to deliver its shocks. What little gore there is, is confined to the film’s opening and closing moments. Ju-On is basically a haunted house story where in many people enter the premises, disturb the spectral inhabitants and wind up dead. There’s not much more to the plot than that. Writer/director Takashi Shimizu has split the story into six vignettes, each concentrating on a character that is targeted by the spirit of rage from the house. The main characters are nothing more than thin sketches, their most important feature being how they are related to each. In this case, such paucity of character development actually contributes to the film, helping maintain the film’s almost aggressive sense of dread. Such thinly defined characters and wispy plot combine to make the film more of a tone poem than a conventionally narrative driven flick. Shimizu manages to imbue each segment with a growing sense of foreboding. The vignettes are presented out of chronological order, some advancing the story, some filling in what happened before Rika arrived. Each segment intersects at least one other, allowing the viewer to piece together the overall web of events. Rather than just being a stylish, Tarantino-inspired story telling technique, this helps to heighten the tension as each segment unfolds. A few of the scares may not quite deliver, but for every one that stumbles, several more succeed. There are some elements here that are starting to become familiar with Japan’s more recent horror genre output, the pasty ghost-child chief among them, but Shimizu manages to keep things feeling fresh and not too well worn.