The first few movies in Japanese filmmaker Takashi Shimizu’s “Ju-On” series (a.k.a. “The Grudge”) helped popularize the now-familiar early 2000s J-horror motifs: the pale, long-haired child-ghosts; the deep shadows concealing unimaginable terrors; the guttural clicking noises on the soundtrack; and the concept of an inescapable evil which drives victims to suicidal madness before it passes on to someone else.
Writer-director Nicolas Pesce’s new American version of “The Grudge” — a long-in-the-works reboot of an earlier English-language “Grudge” franchise — doesn’t reinvent the formula. Andrea Riseborough plays Detective Muldoon, a newly widowed cop investigating the violent history of a house in the small town she’s recently moved to with her young son. As she discovers the house is cursed, Muldoon begins experiencing the effects of that curse herself.
This new “Grudge” copies Shimizu’s non-chronological structure. Muldoon’s investigation leads to stories within stories — all about hauntings and murders — which Pesce weaves together with the help of an impressive cast that includes John Cho, Betty Gilpin, Lin Shaye, Jacki Weaver and Frankie Faison. “The Grudge” is like three interconnected short films, cut together to illustrate how one person’s sins can keep ruining peoples lives years later.
Fans of Pesce’s idiosyncratic indie horror films “The Eyes of My Mother” and “Piercing” may be disappointed by how he toes the line here. His “Grudge” is truer to the original franchise than it is to his own more disturbing visions.
But Pesce’s “The Grudge” is distinctively sour: from the way its characters look exhausted and hollow-eyed to the fact that so many have had loved ones who’ve suffered from cancer, dementia or some other devastating medical condition. This is not a “fun” horror picture. It’s about miseries both supernatural and mundane.
And, yes, it’s scary. Pesce’s art-film roots are evident in the movie’s slow-burn first hour. But in the final third, “The Grudge” piles on the explicit gore and jump scares — all leading to a final scene and final shot as terrifying as anything in the original series. If the angry, vengeful “Ju-On” ghosts must endure, they might as well be deployed by someone who knows how to make their attacks bruising.
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Playing: In general release