From the Archives: The Grudge is perfunctory horror, but there are better grudges to be had at home

From the Archives: The Grudge is perfunctory horror, but there are better grudges to be had at home

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.

Originally posted on Cinema76.

In critical circles, the term “January Movie” exists for a reason. The first month of the year is often seen as the studio dumping ground for films in which they have little faith, either critically, financially or both. Anything that isn’t a spring/summer blockbuster or a potential awards contender will often find itself being unceremoniously released during the first few weeks of each year. Occasionally, one of these disgraced middle children will buck the stereotype, but for the most part, we can expect a January release to be pretty forgettable. However, when it comes to horror movies, the “January Movie” designation is not always accurate. Being a relatively disrespected genre overall, what a studio sees as crap might actually be pretty good in the eyes of the horror connoisseur. So in the spirit of supporting a genre in a much-needed state of critical turnaround, as well as in service of my own curiosity, my first trip to the theater in 2020 was for Nicholas Pesce’s sequelboot of The Grudge.

Produced by Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures, the aim here was to do for The Grudge what was done for The Evil Dead back in 2013, when Fede Alvarez gave us a brutal, brilliant remake. Pesce’s film is a valiant effort too, with attempts being made to expand the Ju-On lore beyond its folktale roots, while delivering on the same chills that dominated American box offices during the J-Horror remake parade of the early aughts. The thing is, by divorcing The Grudge from its ethnic roots, much of what made the story special is lost. Replacing the paper white-skinned, dark-haired ghosties with garden variety rot-demons calls into question the film’s entire existence. This is no longer Ju-On, no longer The Grudge, no longer unique in any notable way. It might as well be yet another in a long line of pale stylistic riffs on The Conjuring. And we don’t need any more of those.

It’s been too long since seeing any of the source films (both original, sequel, and their subsequent remakes), so I am unable to say where this fits into the larger storyline, if at all, but since the film begins in Japan, it’s my assumption that what we are seeing is indeed an extension of the very same haunting which through-lines the series up until this point. The film opens with a social worker standing outside of what is clearly a house haunted by Grudge Monsters. She’s distraught and seemingly uninterested in fulfilling whatever occupational task she’s been assigned, instead seeking a trip back to the states as soon as possible. What she doesn’t know is that Grudge Monsters will follow you any where you go. There’s no shaking the curse.

What follows is essentially three connected stories of families affected by the curse our social worker friend brought stateside. The social worker (Tara Westwood) brings the curse to her family; A young couple (John Cho, Betty Gilpin) are dealing with pregnancy issues while living in the cursed house; An aging couple (Lin Shaye, Frankie Faison) faces terminal illness while their home fills with Grudge Monsters. These plots, each told in a frustratingly illogical chronology, are framed by the story of two cops (Andrea Riseborough, Demián Bichir) investigating the growing body count surrounding this one house. It’s sounds like a lot, and it really is, but despite being stuffed with detail, this compelling idea plays out lifelessly, leading to an obvious conclusion that, on paper, probably reads like the cynical gut-punch that ended every post-9/11 horror movie for a few years (J-Horror films almost always end with a “just kidding, you’re screwed” moment), but in practice it just feels perfunctory — as perfunctory as having Lin Shaye play a haunted old lady.

Tell ya what, though: Andrea Riseborough puts on a veritable fashion show of comfy-sweaters. She singlehandedly puts the Knives Out crew on notice!


Overall, The Grudge is not the unmitigated disaster you’ve been told about, but its charms come solely from its ambition. There’s no denying the talents of writer/director Nicholas Pesce, and he takes a respectable swing helming a film that, in hindsight, was doomed from the get go. As a fascination, I’d say it’s worth seeing, but as a piece of spooky entertainment, you could do much better.

How much better? Well, you could log on to Shudder and check out Sadako vs. Hayako, which translates loosely to The Ring vs. The Grudge. Yes, they made a VS movie for J-Horror’s biggest stars, and I watched it immediately after checking out The Grudge. Guess what…it totally rules. Sure, it‘s silly, as is required for such a thing, but it also serves as a reminder of what tone a Grudge/Ring film should have. Sadako vs. Hayako is steeped heavily in folklore, and is unafraid to lean into the inherent fiction of it all. Why put Grudge Monsters in the real world when the real world is incompatible with Grudge Monsters?

But hey, it’s January, and I’m not above a January Movie like The Grudge, especially when it has what is probably the best usage in history of a dummy falling from a high place and splattering gloriously upon impact. That, my friends, was worth every penny.

The Grudge is now playing in Philly theaters

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