Early on, Takashi Shimizu's stylish but silly, credibility-defying horror picture "The Grudge" features one lucky Tokyo real estate agent. He's been showing a large modern house to an American businessman (William Mapother), the man's wife (Clea DuVall) and his mother (Grace Zabriskie) when the agent notices that one of the bathtubs is filled with murky water. As he moves to empty it before the family enters the room, a woman's arm reaches out of the water and grabs him. As he struggles to wrest himself free he hears the magic words: "We'll take it." The clutching arm retreats.
That agent is one of the few people in this movie who escapes the curse of this house, where several years earlier a husband, in a jealous rage, killed his wife and their small son before taking his own life. Since then, the house has been haunted by the angry spirits of the wife and son, who materialize in one form or another to take revenge upon just about anybody who has the misfortune to enter the house. These spirits are by no means tied to the residence. Once they glom on to a victim they are seemingly able to pursue him or her anywhere. Since all this is a bit of a stretch, to say the least, the viewer is left to wonder how any of the residents could have afforded such a house, either for purchase or for rent, given Tokyo's astronomical prices.
Sarah Michelle Gellar plays an exchange student and volunteer at the university's care center who comes to the house to look after Zabriskie, who has been reduced to a catatonic state after her son and daughter-in-law were murdered. The vengeful ghosts cast a wide net, menacing not only Gellar but her boyfriend (Jason Behr), an American professor (Bill Pullman) and Zabriskie's daughter (KaDee Strickland), even though she lives elsewhere, and, finally, a police inspector (Ryo Ishibashi).
A convoluted plot makes it hard for the viewer to track the action and to become involved with any of the characters, including Gellar's perfectly nice, perfectly ordinary student. This makes it all the harder to go along with all the haunted house horrors that ensnare her.
"The Grudge" is a fairly faithful adaptation of Shimizu's "Ju-On," which in turn was based on his direct-to-video version, which in turn also spawned a direct-to-video sequel. More than anything, "The Grudge" suggests that it's time for Shimizu to move on.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material; disturbing images, terror, violence; some sensuality.
Times guidelines: Too intense and gory for youngsters
Sarah Michelle Gellar...Karen
KaDee Strickland...Susan Williams
Clea DuVall...Jennifer Williams
A Sam Raimi and Columbia Pictures presentation of a Ghost House Pictures production. Director Takashi Shimizu. Producers Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, Taka Ichise. Executive producers Joe Drake, Nathan Kahane, Carsten Lorenz. Screenplay by Stephen Susco; based on "Ju-On: The Grudge," written and directed by Shimizu. Cinematographer Hideo Yamamoto. Editor Jeff Betancourt. Music Christopher Young. Costumes Shawn Holly Cookson. Production designer Iwao Saito. Art director Kyoko Yauchi. Set decorator Tatsuo Ozeki. Set designer Katsumi Kaneda. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes. In general release.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times