The Grudge (2020)
the grudge | remake | sequel | ju-on | ghost | ghosts | haunted | haunted house | nicolas pesce | tara westwood | junko bailey | david lawrence brown | mystery | united states | canada | andrea riseborough | lin shaye | john cho | demian bichir | william sandler | frankie faison
Film: The Grudge
Director: Nicolas Pesce
Writer: Nicolas Pesce
Starring: Tara Westwood, Junko Bailey and David Lawrence Brown
This was a film that I curious to check out after hearing an interview with writer/director Nicolas Pesce. I knew there were talks of The Grudge getting another remake and it made me wonder as it seemed to be in development for awhile. Pesce was on I believe Shockwaves podcast to talk about his film that I kicked off 2019 with in Piercing. It is interesting this is my first horror film of 2020 now as well. The synopsis is a house is cursed by a vengeful ghost that dooms those who enter it with a violent death.
We start this film as also a semi-sequel to the original American remake. Fiona Landers (Tara Westwood) is leaving the cursed house in Tokyo and calls her family to tell them that she’s coming home. She is spooked by something trash bag and then a hand grabs her leg from another one. This is taking place back in 2004 and she returns home to Cross River, Pennsylvania. Fiona makes it home to her husband Sam (David Lawrence Brown) and Melinda (Zoe Fish).
It then shifts to two years forward which is actually the present for these events. Detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough) has moved into a new house with her son, Burke (John J. Hansen). Through their interactions, we learn that his father and her husband passed away from cancer. She is going to be the new partner to Goodman (Demián Bichir). Their first case together is a dead woman found in a crashed car. It is there that another cop tells who she is and the house that she came from. This draws attention from her partner and this in turn causes her to look into it. It is through another detective we learn that the case she is looking into messed up Goodman, but oddly enough, he never went into the house.
As part of her investigation, Muldoon goes to the house. It is there she discovers another body and this leads into an even deeper mystery involving the current residents Faith Matheson (Lin Shaye), her husband William (Frankie Faison) and the woman they found in this car accident. This original case caused Goodman’s partner of Detective Wilson (William Sadler) to go crazy along with something happening to the realty agents of Peter (John Cho) and his pregnant wife as well as partner Nina Spencer (Betty Gilpin) who sold it to the Mathesons. Strange things are also happening to Detective Muldoon, making her think that the curse might be real.
To kick off my assessment, I do have to give credit to Pesce. He did a really good job at continuing on what Takashi Shimizu did with his versions of this story. This is interesting as it follows in the vein of other remakes that play as a sequel as well. This pretty much is incorporating elements from the American Grudge films, where we have a woman who is from the US, working in Japan and then bringing the curse home with her.
Something else that I should bring up here is that Pesce also incorporating the non-linear telling of the story that we got with the original Japanese films as well as that original the American remake/series. I’ll be honest, it took me a bit into this to piece together how everything goes. Now I saw the other American remake first before the others and I’ll admit, this way to telling the story threw me off and I didn’t care for it. Now I actually think it is clever if I’m honest. I have similar things here, but I also have my issues with it as well.
To get back to the story of the movie, I don’t know if I like where they went. We get to see Kayako (Junko Bailey) as a ghost briefly, but then in America it changes. I don’t like this change here. I almost feel if they’re going this route, they should have just taken the idea of the original and then just had it happen here or have gone with a Japanese family doing it here if that’s the route they were going to take. This doesn’t make sense to what happens, because the curse is completely different how it plays out in America. Making it a sequel you really need it to follow the rules in my opinion.
This version also does callbacks to the other films as well, which I do like. There’s a scene where Muldoon sees someone on camera and then plays it back. When she tries to show it to someone else, it’s not there. I really like this aspect that person thinking she might be losing it, but something great about the original is that the curse extends to that person by watching the film back and I thought that was cool. This one is also much more bloody and brutal than the others, which doesn’t really feel like a Grudge film by going that route. It is really only the death that starts it all, but this one actually incorporates the curse causing the initial person to violently attack those at home.
What I did want to say about this movie is that I love the complex characters that we get. Muldoon and her son are dealing with the loss of her husband and his father. I like that we see her breaking down and diving into this case to avoid dealing with her grief. She is also missing out on her son because of it. Faith needs doctor’s care and her husband is trying something risky to help her. Peter and Nina realize their baby might have a condition that will take down the child’s quality of life. I felt invested with all of these characters so the impact of what happens to them was there for me. That works.
I do have to say that the acting is quite strong here. Westwood I thought was fine in her role as well as Bailey, Brown and Fish. They were all creepy at different times for sure and primarily are our ghosts haunting others. Riseborough is pretty much the lead here. I really find her to talented and she looks like someone who is dealing with the stress of life. Her idea of trying to clear her head is dive into the case, which is her downfall. Bichir I thought was solid as her counterpart who is trying to help her. I liked Shaye, Cho, Glipin, Jacki Weaver and Faison in all of their roles as well. They’re really put together a great cast that works well off each other in their separate, yet connected stories.
As for the effects, I wondered in this day and age that they could go CGI heavy or jump-scares. They pretty much did both. I’ve been quite critical of jump-scares, but after listening to some people talk about them, I like them when done effectively. We get quite a few here and I will admit that one of them got me. This one does something that really creeps me out with people not noticing there’s someone in the room behind them or seeing a character in the window while you’re outside. I will be lenient on the CGI, it didn’t look horrible. I heard there was a dummy death in this movie, which there is and it is pretty funny. The movie is shot well also. I don’t really have anything negative in for this department. I did want to commend Pesce as the aesthetic to his movies are really good.
The last thing would be the sound design. I liked that they kept the creepy sound that the ghosts make. That will also get under my skin. I also think that I heard variations of it in scenes as well when the ghost might actually be there. I thought that was clever. The song selections in this were pretty solid as well. I did notice them a few times so I’m pretty positive how they used this overall.
Now with that said, I heard some people being down on this, but I still wanted to see it for myself to judge. I think there are some good aspects to the story. I don’t mind bringing this to the United States and making it kind of a sequel/remake. Some of the changes to the story also work for me, but there are some things that don’t. I think it would work better using the idea and just starting fresh as opposed to what they did as I have issues with changing the curse. The acting is strong. The editing and the non-linear story can get a bit confusing. I like incorporating it, but I don’t think it works as well as the original or the American remake. The effects were fine. I also thought the sound design was quite effect. Overall I’d say just over average for me, but again another with untapped potential that falls short.
My Rating: 6 out of 10