The Grudge (2020)
Written & Directed by Nicolas Pesce
In the late 1990s/early 2000s, Japanese horror was a pretty hot item in movies. It started with imports to the West of movies like Ringu and Kairo. This type of fear offered a more modern take on tropes with monsters that didn’t find archetypes we were used to. Technology was a crucial piece in these stories, but not in all of them. The most common element was the city, an urban landscape full of ancient evils and a cloud of darkness hanging over it all. This is where The Grudge series comes from. The enemy doesn’t come from cell phones or computers or even a haunted video. It’s classical horror, a simple haunted house. In 2020, the second American Grudge film was released, which is where this review comes in.
Fiona Landers is a live-in nurse at the notorious house from the Grudge series in Tokyo, Japan. Unseen events cause her to flee and return to her husband and daughter in 2004, resuming her life in a Pennsylvania suburb. Jump to 2006, and Detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough) has moved to a new home with her son, her husband recently passing from cancer. She is present when a crashed car is discovered deep in the woods. The investigation leads her to the Landers home, which became the home to a new family since. Through a series of non-linear flashbacks, the story of the Grudge’s transfer from Japan to this small town in America is told. It comes as no surprise that as the deeper Detective Muldoon investigates, the more the curse bleeds into her own life.
The Grudge 2020 is a total disaster of a horror film. There is no meaningful character development for any role, with the film being so poorly written. The dialogue hurts to hear and is full of every cliche. The entire bevy of scares offered up by the picture consists of jumpscares you can see coming a mile away. Hm, I wonder if a ghost will jump out from behind the person whom the camera is pointed out, and the shot has made sure we can see the black space in the closet behind him? Ghosts zoom by the screen in an attempt to creep us out. You’ve seen this all again over and over, and writer-director Nicolas Pesce has done nothing to add a fresh take or even an interesting twist.
What makes this all the more stunning a failure is the reasonably strong cast. Andrea Riseborough, John Cho, Jackie Weaver. These are not bad actors, but you see how good meaningful dialogue is when they are forced to deliver horribly clumsy lines. The tone of the movie is confusing, with some moments appearing to want to be tongue in cheek.
There is a moment where a grieving husband (played by Frankie Faison) whose wife is deteriorating from physical and mental illness gives a short speech on how a haunting could be a gift to a person who loses a loved one. This moment could have have been a perfect thematic core to build the rest of the film out of, but Pesce drops the ball. I don’t know how much was him or Sony executives giving notes. Sony is notorious for dropping the ball on productions from Amazing Spider-Man 2 to the 2016 Ghostbusters to the Slender Man movie. This could simply be another case of Sony mishandling a property.
The Grudge was never my favorite Japanese horror movie; that belonged to the American Ring remake. The Grudge was a good atmospheric horror film and this remake/reboot/sequel/whatever doesn’t understand how to be that. I enjoyed Pesce’s previous effort, The Eyes of My Mother, and thought it would be a least passingly decent. That’s not the case, and I would recommend you don’t waste your time on this film at all.