Film Review: The Grudge (2020)

Let me start this review by saying that I like The Grudge franchise. I don’t love the series, but I think that Ju-On: The Grudge, the 2004 American remake, and 2006’s The Grudge 2 are all solid horror films despite their flaws (The Grudge 3 is an a total dumpster fire though). The long-gestating sequel/spin-off/reboot continues that tradition with a decent, but not great horror film. Even though it doesn’t surpass what came before, it’s still worth watching for those who enjoyed the previous movies.

That’s not to say it’s only more of the same though. The Grudge tells a handful of stories that are all tied together by the titular curse, just like the original, but it puts a much bigger emphasis on the victims than the vengeful spirits that haunt them. The ghosts are still present throughout the film – and still pretty dang scary – but I’d argue that seeing the effects of the trauma they inflict upon their targets is almost scarier.

The 2020 iteration also features the best cast of the Grudge films by a landslide (and I really enjoyed Sarah Michelle Gellar in the 2004 version) with each vignette having at least two strong actors going all in. Andrea Riseborough, John Cho, William Sadler, Betty Gilpin, and Frankie Faison all bring a depth to their characters, making you more sympathetic to their plights. And holy hell, Lin Shaye – who built quite the scream queen reputation for herself through the 2010’s – steals the show, even from the wrathful wraiths! She’s genuinely amazing here. Her performance alone is worth the price of admission.

Most importantly, the movie does a good job being scary, even if the ghosts mostly rely on jump scares. There’s decent-to-strong tension-building in every scene where spooky stuff goes down, and it works the vast majority of the time. The film has plenty of new scares, but also throws in a few homages to the original (like extra hands appearing when someone washes their hair) too. There’s nothing as terrifying as the bed sequence in Ju-On, at least with the ghosts, but I felt sufficiently shocked and creeped out by the time the credits rolled.

Unfortunately, the newest  Grudge flick is held back from greatness by the same problem that has plagued the franchise from the beginning. The “rules” of the curse and how it works are never clearly defined, which makes it hard to understand why some people die quickly while others are slowly affected over long periods of time. Maybe some people, like the members of The Grudge’s huge fanbase, find it scarier not knowing, but it just seems like weak storytelling to me.

With all said and done, The Grudge is a passable addition to the series’ lineup, but far from a classic in the horror genre. Maybe the sequel/reboot/remake – which I’m 90% sure will happen eventually – will be the first great Grudge film?

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