The Grudge joins Wicker Park, Taxi, and Shall We Dance? as yet another entry in the recent cycle of foreign films and older Hollywood fare currently being remade for modern audiences. (Ironically, the poster art for the American version of The Grudge is a direct swipe from the poster art for the Japanese film Ringu, remade last year as The Ring.) The Grudge is definitely the best of the lot, mostly due to the fact that the original’s helmer Takashi Shimizu is on hand to direct this version.
Sarah Michelle Gellar is Karen, an American exchange student in Tokyo who volunteers at a local care center. After one of her co-workers fails to show up for work, Karen is assigned to care for Emma (Grace Zabriski) who lives with her son and daughter-in-law. When she arrives at the home, she discovers a small boy in a closet that had been sealed shut with duct tape. However, Karen is not freeing a trapped boy, but unleashing a curse that had been slowly building in the house and has already claimed her missing co-worker and Emma’s family. As the truth about what has been happening around Karen slowly reveals itself, she begins a desperate race to try and stop the malevolent force before it claims anyone else.
This is actually the third time Shimizu has told this tale. The Grudge, or Ju-On as the original is known as, started life as a direct to video film in 2000, then remade for the Japanese big screen in 2003. However, there is no sense of directorial laziness brought about by the repetition. Shimizu created the story and knows the material better than any one. He skillfully builds an atmosphere of dread and foreboding that sustains for the entire film.
Shimizu replicates what has worked before and improves on the previous films’ few weaker moments. The story has been given a few minor tweaks, but they’re mostly to accommodate the American cast. The vignette-like structure of the original has been smoothed out somewhat, allowing for better transitions between the flashback segments that detail how the curse came to be unleashed and what happened to the house’s occupants before Karen arrived.
While people who have seen the original versions will see this new iteration as a minor variation on the Japanese version, Shimizu and his American screenplay collaborator Stephen Susco have managed to work in a few twists that will surprise. The opening scene with Bill Pullman is one such moment that manages to shock with one simple little act. Even if seen before, this new version of The Grudge has enough here to deliver the scares horror film aficionados crave.