REVIEW: The Grudge (2020)

Theatrical Release Poster – Columbia Pictures

The following is a review of The Grudge — Directed by Nicolas Pesce.

Though I haven’t rewatched it in years (for reasons that will become apparent in a moment), I think that Takashi Shimizu’s Sarah Michelle Gellar-led 2004 American remake of Ju-On: The Grudge is really effective. To be perfectly honest with you, it frightened me so much when I saw it at age eleven that it gave me nightmares. I thought about it for weeks. The creepy imagery still freaks me out. So, when I heard that up-and-coming filmmaker Nicolas Pesce was making a new film in the series, I was both nervous, scared, and intrigued. Unfortunately, I don’t think Pesce was able to breathe new life into the horror subgenre once ruled by Ju-On and Ringu.

Nicolas Pesce’s The Grudge reboot follows Detective Muldoon (played by Andrea Riseborough), a widowed mother, who while on a case with her new partner, Detective Goodman (played by Demián Bichir), finds a rotting corpse by the side of the road. The fact that Goodman seems to know more about this peculiar finding than he lets on intrigues Muldoon, who starts to investigate one of Goodman’s former cases. This leads Muldoon to Reyburn Drive and a haunted home that tends to take the lives of every individual that sets foot in the building. Soon the vengeful ghost that created this house of horror sets her sights on the female detective.

There were plenty of reasons to be excited about the reboot of The Grudge. For one, it was being directed and co-written by an up-and-coming independent horror filmmaker. Also, it would appear that something had caught the eye of great talent. Betty Gilpin, John Cho, Andrea Riseborough, and Jacki Weaver all joined the cast that also included horror darling Lin Shaye. Finally, the studio has been patient. We haven’t seen an American film in the series since 2009, so one would hope that they had returned to the franchise because they were excited about the potential in reviving it.

Pesce’s film boldly, except for one or two scenes, almost ignores the iconic creepy imagery of the original films including the frightening black-haired and unearthly white vengeful ghost, which, I think, is only seen in one scene. Unfortunately, I don’t think what Pesce has replaced it with is particularly scary. Now the vengeful ghost appears in human forms that reminded me more of the virus-maddened family in Resident Evil 7 than traditional J-Horror. We also see plenty of creepy kids. Frustratingly, though the film includes decomposed bodies and plenty of blood, it is never as scary as Takashi Shimizu’s American remake from 2004. Though two or three audience-members became so startled that they ran out of the movie theater on opening night in Denmark, the jump scares in the film, frankly, just bored and annoyed me.

Pesce’s film is frustratingly predictable. The jump scares are obvious and done to death. They borrow the flickering of a switch-effect from David F. Sandberg’s Lights Out and fail to execute it as effectively as the Swedish filmmaker has in the past. The anti-climactic ending of the film is also really obvious and worn out. Pesce’s film is also needlessly convoluted. The film relies upon several jumbled flashbacks that definitely should have been sequenced better. Not only does it sometimes feel like scenes are being shown out of order to a confusing extent, but it also feels like there are several important scenes missing. Pesce wastes Demián Bichir, whose accent as Detective Goodman constantly threw me off, as his character goes absolutely nowhere. His most memorable scene is the one where he has to decide what movie to show Muldoon’s son.

The film, which is often shot in a sickly yellowish hue, did have two or three elements that I actually did enjoy. I think that the subplot involving John Cho and Betty Gilpin was fairly engaging, even though it always failed to scare me. I also have a little bit of a compliment for The Newton Brothers, who created the film’s score. I think that there is a pretty strong and effective score track in the third act when Detective Muldoon, finally, decides to follow the advice that William Sadler’s character gave her. Finally, I think there is a really nice scene between Jacki Weaver and Frankie Faison’s characters that gives you a glimpse of a more profound ghost film in the vein of Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House. But right when the film seems ready to explore these far more interesting themes, we cut to a noisy shot of Weaver zipping up her purse almost as if to say that the filmmaker has absolutely no interest in that kind of film.

Nicolas Pesce’s reboot of The Grudge tries but fails to breathe new life into a crowd-pleasing but outworn franchise. The scares are predictable and tedious, the creature design is bland and disappointing, and Pesce and co-writer Jeff Buhler’s overlapping storylines make the film feel jumbled. They should’ve probably left this franchise alone. This horror reboot is a bad start to this new decade.

3.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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