Sarah Michelle Gellar
Back in 2000 Ju-on, a low budget straight to video Japanese horror movie, became a cult classic by word of mouth only and made a name for director Takashi Shimizu.
Most horror movies rely on the tried and tested technique of not showing their monster too early – letting peoples imagination do the work for them. Shimizu gained fame for eschewing this trend, relying on the masterful creation of Kayako, a blue faced ghost who was genuinely eerie to look at, and including her in as many scenes as possible.
Six years later the franchise has reached no less than its sixth iteration, four Japanese releases, and two American remakes – all of which have been directed by Shimizu himself. In fact he has done little apart from remakes of the movie that made him a star, which is generally a recipe for disaster (see Kevin Smith for details).
A confusing series of name changes has meant that this one (an American remake of July’s Ju-On: The Grudge 2) could be called The Grudge 2 with a relatively straight face – but rest assured people have had more than one opportunity to see Shimizu’s unique brand of blue faced frightening.
And he hasn’t messed around with his formula. An unpopular schoolgirl is pushed into a haunted house by her friends at Tokyos International School. A boy’s family begins to fall apart after a mysterious stranger moves in next door. A girl flies to Tokyo after her sister is hospitalised in a house fire. All three begin to experience visions – and all events are connected to a mysterious curse known as “The Grudge”.
I will confess to being a Grudge virgin, and it’s unclear if this increased or decreased my enjoyment. Certainly its similarities to the (far superior) Ring series were jarring enough to make me feel as if I’d seen it before.
The film assumes a fair bit of Grudge related knowledge and, in place of plot, for a while simply bombards us with a series of scary scenes, as Kayako (Takako Fuji) menaces her victims. The sheer weight of attempted frights unsurprisingly decreases their value; while applauding Shimizu for his novel approach to horror, one can’t help but feel that less might have been more in this instance.
Sarah Michelle Gellar, Amber Tamblyn, Arielle Kebbel and Edison Chen turn in equally wooden performances, each one unsure when to be frightened and when to relax, all enjoying an almost superhuman power to forget about the ghost they just saw and move on. Shimizu’s hand is a bit surer with Takako Fuji, who is still good value as the vengeful ghost – but considering how much practice she’s had it would be disappointing if she wasn’t.
It’s pretty disappointing anyway – a rather shallow creation, with not much going on apart from one scary scene being repeated ad infinitum, and nothing much to convince me to seek out the other five. Probably time for Shimizu to make something else.