The Grudge

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The plot in a nutshell
When someone dies a violent or cruel death, something is left behind - a curse of sorts.  And it will kill all it touches.

That's what an unlucky group of people learn, after they move into a home in Japan that has been the scene of a gruesome crime.  The emotion of that crime still haunts the place, taking the lives of everyone that seems to cross the threshold.

Relatively Spoiler Free Thoughts
Okay, so not quite everyone, and that's one of the flaws of what appears to be an excellent horror movie.  I say appears, because it's in appearances, and in how the creeps are set up and carried out, that this film excels.  When it comes to making any sense, following any sort of logic - even ghost logic - or playing by the rules, this movie breaks down.

This is a story about women, in one sense.  All the main characters (with the exception of the young boy, Toshio) are female.  There are men involved of course, but they are very much on the periphery of the story, and not central to the acting.  The woman all seem somewhat like fish out of water, none really comfortable with where they are, either due to language or other issues.  That's not the real point of this film, but simply an under current that links the main characters.

A young American family - husband and wife, with his infirm mother - move into a home in Japan.  The point of this movie is what happens to them, the people sent to care for the mother, and even the police sent to investigate.  The evil that this house emotes reaches into all their lives, although it's not nearly as selective in its choice of victims as we're led to believe.  At one point we're told of the Japanese myth that the grudge will kill who ever it touches, yet there are plenty of folks in this film - including the real estate agent who is quite literally touched - that never die.

This is not a slow movie by any stretch of the imagination.  Almost every scene is of another victim being stalked or killed, each done with an excellent creep factor.  The photography and direction torque up the tension every time, and there's no cheap shots at fear.  It always comes at the climax of the scene, and it's always creepy.

But the film doesn't try too hard to explain any of it, and for the most part that's fine by me.  I get the general idea - the original victims of the crime, a husband, wife and child, were all three killed in a gruesome, cruel way.  The emotions of hate, betrayal and fear of all three live on in this house, acting out on everyone that enters.  Where I do have a bit of a problem is with the long range attacks - the spirits seem capable of killing you just about anywhere, and seem to revel in prank phone calls.  Speaking of phones, what is it with the Japanese and telephones?  Do they fear telemarketers even more than we do?  It seems to be such a cornerstone of most of their recent horror.

You'll see parallels between this film and others like the Eye, the Ring, Poltergeist, etc., but what it does best is crank up the spook factor.  When the cop watches the surveillance tape, he knows he's watching a taped event, an we know we're watching a movie of a taped event - and it still freaks the crap out of us, and him.  That's great horror movie making.

There's not a lot of exposition, back story or explanation here.  Rather than spend long speeches on telling us what has happened in the past, we are shown through long flashback sequences.  I thought these worked extremely well, and all of them were pretty easy to follow.  Only the first takes you off guard, and once you realize what's happening, it becomes clear throughout the rest of the film. The ending will leave some folks wishing for a better resolution, but overall, it does what it set out to do, which is more than most horror flicks ever manage.

Rating - Go to see it.
If you're a horror fan, this is a movie you should see, if for no other reason than to see the excellent camera and direction that builds the scenes to their climax.  The artful use of mirrors, windows, reflections and frosted glass led a spookiness that buckets of blood can never obtain.

This is also a great sounding movie, and when it hits dvd, it will give your surround system a nice work out.  There will be plenty of freaky noises to keep you engrossed at home, and I suspect this will be a dvd I pick up once it's released.

Spoiler Laden Thoughts
I'll talk about the plot now in more spoiler laden depth...











For a minute there, I thought Bill Pullman might not even end up with any lines in this film.  There's nothing quite like a nice, shocking start to a film to get things rolling, and his immediate death at the beginning did that well.  Fortunately, through the magic of flashback sequences, we get to see Bill many more times.

I didn't think the overall timeline was all that hard to follow here, but I've seen other reviewers getting it wrong, so either they aren't too bright, or it's more complicated than it seems.

The story is simple - a woman attending school gets a secret crush on her professor, to the point of obsession.  She's constantly stalking him (although it seems a little odd that her husband would have to find her journal to figure it out - where is she all the time?), writing about him, and writing him letters.  The teacher (Bill Pullman) goes to see her to set things right, but when he gets there, it's already gone bad - the husband has found out about his wife, drowning her in the bath tub (after drowning the cat, oddly enough), and hanging himself.  The papers reported that he also killed his son, although we don't actually see that.  Pullman rushes off, and the next day, either unable to deal with the guilt (my personal belief) or pushed by the grudge, leaps off his balcony to his death.

Fast forward a few months to the new tenants.  Matt and his wife Jennifer move in with Matt's mother.  Matt's sister also works in Japan, living in a high rise apartment.  It takes zero time for things to go bad - there's no weeks or months of build up, but an immediate resolution.  Jennifer and Matt both meet their end on the same day shortly after moving in, their bodies transported up to the attic.

The next day, Yoko, the young woman who helps Jennifer tend to the mother's needs, arrives to find a note saying Jennifer has gone out.  This is the first time we see the ghosts using the physical world to actually set up their prey, a rather intelligent move that is usually not seen in ghost movies.  Ghosts are usually dumb, or at least incapable of deception of this caliber.

Yoko is cleaning up around the house - the grudge always messes it up, although there's no clear answer as to why - and hears noises up stairs.  She goes up to see what is wrong, and poof, another one bites the dust.

Now that Yoko isn't around, the center sends another young woman to help the next day - Sarah Michelle Gellar's character, Karen.  She's in Japan with her boyfriend, who's attending college in Tokyo.  She shows up, and realizes something just isn't right almost from the minute she arrives.  We first meet the young boy, and before you can say long black hair, the mother is dead and Karen is in shock.

While Karen was walking around the house, the phone had rung.  It was Matt's sister calling from work.  Through a flashback later in the film we see that she also died that night shortly after this phone call, again at the hand of the emotions ruling this house.  This attack occurred very far from the home, and there's no explanation as to how that's possible, or why it even occurs.  There's also more of the spirits working to deceive and confuse their victims, which seemed odd and out of place without any sort of explanation.  Is it all a game to the grudge?  

The house continues on it's killing spree after the police come to investigate, taking Karen's boyfriend, and even the policeman who comes to believe that there is a grudge in this house.  By the end of the film the body count is up to 8, not including the three cops we are told died back during the first investigation.  That's pretty high for modern horror, and even high for most slasher flicks.

This story isn't told the way I just told it though - it starts with Gellar going to the house, and then we are given flashbacks to fill in the various stories.  I personally thought that worked extremely well, and was not difficult to follow, but your mileage may vary.

I found the ending - with Gellar alive, the house still there, and no real resolution to anything - unsatisfying, and my biggest disappointment overall.  I also have a problem with the grudge's seeming ability to do just about anything, including writing notes, calling victims, and showing up as other dead characters, with no real explanation. I felt the level of explanation was perfect had the crimes remained within the walls of the house, but once the nasty started moving about town, it hurt my ability to stay within the story. These flaws didn't impact the films otherwise excellent capability to creep me out though, and they played every scene to the max.  If you're looking for a film to watch late at night, all alone, in a dark house, then this is it.

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