The Grudge (2020) Review: A disappointing start to a new year
With his remake/reboot/sequel of the iconic modern horror franchise, Nicolas Pesce’s The Grudge is uneven and generic in the scares it offers and ultimately a mixed bag with the film’s storytelling
In a similar vein to the 2004 remake, the story is told in a non-linear fashion that stems from the film’s opening that shows how the series’ central curse makes its way to U.S. The opening is definitely a nice homage for fans to enjoy as we see Fiona Landers (Tara Westwood), a caretaker, leaving the iconic house in Tokyo and returning to her family. Unknowingly, Fiona takes a vengeful spirit home that not only takes over their home and causes her to kill her family before committing suicide, but latches onto anyone that comes into their home. Thus, the film follows a new police detective, Muldoon (Andrea Risenbough), as she uncovers the horror stories that lurk within the walls of this new house and the lives it’s destroyed.
Pesce clearly has a deep appreciation for the Grudge franchise and it’s hard for that appreciation not to be felt. From him kicking things off by bringing the iconic Tokyo house to even keeping the same style of non-linear storytelling, it’s easy to see that Pesce tried to put a lot of love in developing a new entry in the franchise. Even seeing some of the ways he connects the film to Juon, the film from Takashi Shimizu that started it all, and focuses on being a little gorier in the ways that Japanese horror films are is definitely pleasing to the horror fan in me. However, I just wish that this same love and care could’ve been implemented into the story, characters, and scares because they just feel lifeless for most of the film.
The scares are just your typical jump scares that rarely have any sort of atmosphere or unpredictability to immerse viewers into the scene. You could literally predict the scares from a mile away and the new spirits are just disappointing. If you were coming into this film hoping to see the skin-crawling and chill-inducing presence of Kayako (Junko Bailey) – prepare to be disappointed. Outside of the opening scene, the series’ move to the U.S. pretty much means that the more Japanese inspired specters are gone and replaced with disappointingly generic ghosts to torment these characters. The reincarnated spirits really just look like your run of the mill zombies and lack any sort of unique qualities. Even in moments where Pesce hits his stride and utilizes the background to create build up for the growing supernatural presence that haunts everyone – he just falls back on using jump scares. Worst of all, outside of a few aspects and nostalgic callbacks, it never feels like you’re watching a Grudge film and it leaves you disappointed as a fan.
I can even appreciate Pesce wanting to return the series to non-linear storytelling, but there’s way too much going on with all the characters. Overall, the acting I would say is surprisingly strong with Risenbough, Demian Bichir, John Cho, Betty Gilpin, and Lin Shaye being the big standouts. Risenbough really sells the growing obsession that Muldoon has with the house after entering it and Bichir is great in creating a mysterious atmosphere of the newly haunted house as Detective Goodman. Cho and Gilpin have great chemistry as the Spencers, the real estate agents for the house, and I did feel some emotional connection to them because of the troubles they have in their unborn baby possibly being born with ALD – a rare genetic disorder. Shaye gives one of my favorite performances, though, as she creates a lot of creepy fun that elevates the generic horrors she’s offered.
Even for the solid performances, though, they aren’t given a whole lot to do as they’re all narrowed down to one trait and are easily disposable because of how little you get to know them. The film is constantly shifting between each story at such a rapid pace that it’s impossible to gain too much care for anyone and they all literally bite the dust so fast in the final act that it’s almost like they were there just to up the body count. Not to mention, they’re all afflicted by the contagious horror cliché of characters making dumb decisions, so they’re deaths feel incredibly choreographed and forced. Add in some unnecessary repeat shots to connect them all, a dull and unnecessarily dreary ending, and an overall tone that’s totally lifeless, and you have the truly uneven and generic watch that is this remake.
Pesce’s clear love for the Grudge franchise and the solid performances from everyone definitely save this new installment from being a total waste of time, but the lack of unique scares and convoluted plot don’t make it much more than that. After such a great 2019, it’s a shame that The Grudge can’t continue its momentum and instead offers a disappointing start to a new year.