Ju-on (2002), The Grudge (2004), & The Grudge (2020) 3-in-1 review
“When someone dies in the grip of a powerful rage… a curse is born. The curse gathers in that place of death. Those who encounter it will be consumed by its fury.”
Starting back in 1998 with two short films, Katasumi and 4444444444, the Ju-On series follows a curse following those who come into contact with it. It is typically set in a house, following several inhabitants of the house before it is revealed to be caused by a great tragedy. The Japanese film series became popular with the 2002 film Ju-On: The Grudge, which was the third feature film and first theatrical release in the series. The film had a sequel in 2003 and two anniversary films in 2009, as well as a reboot and a sequel in 2014 and 2015. There’s also a crossover with Ringu (1998) that looks pretty awesome from 2016, but that’s beside the point. The director of the first Grudge film, which is actually the third/fifth film in the series depending on how you look at it, adapted the film for American audiences in 2006, which had a sequel in 2006, another in 2009, and a rebootquel in 2020. Gosh what a can of worms I opened with these movies…
This is a review of the three first Grudge films. The 2002 film, which can easily be the original film, the 2004 American remake, and the 2020 reboot-sequel so that there’s some reason to be writing this. But let me sum up before I begin: If you’ve never seen a Grudge movie, watch just the first. Sure it’s no masterpiece, but trust me, once you watch more movies of this awful series, it will make you really appreciate the original. Would I get rid of the original to get rid of all of the movies that followed? Yeah probably. But hey, I’d also watch it again.
Ju-On: The Grudge (2002):
Ju-On is an interesting experiment. It’s essentially a horror anthology that the characters in the film either quickly piece together or die. The film’s nonlinear narrative takes the audience for a rather confusing ride as we ourselves must also figure out the story. However this absolutely takes away from the enjoyment to be had. One thing that really hurts this choice is that the film never advertises the structural choice until you are already lost. So if you go into this film more ready than I was, I guarantee you’ll enjoy it more.
That said, I did like this movie. The low budget puts a very tight constraint on, well, everything that Takashi Shimizu could do. And somehow, they really pull it off! I never jumps out of my seat, but there are a few pretty creepy moments! The often blunt nature of the filmmaking does make the scares feel a bit more real, and that has indeed aged well. On top of that, the subtle take on some of the scares keeps you constantly uneasy, much like the original Halloween (1978). The performances are consistently convincing as well, which goes a long way towards- not being as bad, well, the next two I’m going to talk about… Overall, Ju-On is gonna get a 6/10 from me. It’s not bad, but I haven’t sat down to watch it again in an attempt to figure it out.
The Grudge (2004):
The 2004 film is a direct remake from Takashi Shimizu, who if you recall directed the original film. While this doesn’t sound terrible on paper, I’ve never found a remake by the director of the original a good idea. And something was clearly lost. The film’s narrative is somehow still muddy, however this is clearly meant for audiences who HAVEN’T seen the original film. The story is the identical, so while piecing together the puzzle may be a hook for new audiences, it’s a shortcut to Snoozetown for anyone familiar with the story. The tripled budget somehow doesn’t go as far, despite the fact that this film made it’s budget eighteen times over. So there is a strategy here, as this CLEARLY reached more audiences than the original, which only managed to make back its budget.
That said, we could barely make it through this film. The performances are pretty bland across the board, and the scares simply don’t cut it. Somehow both Ring films manage to be scary despite huge budgetary differences, but something about the natural lighting and minimal production of the original makes it feel much more real than this very Hollywood-y remake. So if you haven’t seen the original, I’m certain you will like this more than we did. But I can’t get over having seen the original and sitting through a WORSE version of that film. 4/10.
The Grudge (2020):
Look, I hadn’t thought this film could be worse, but it is. It’s worse. It’s SO much worse. Honestly, HOW COULD IT BE WORSE? It’s not like this is a complex formula? Tragedy happens, ghost haunts house, people try to figure it out as ghosts collect ghosts of people and use them against people. (Kinda.) The Grudge not only obliterates the continuity of the first films, but it does it on an obviously contradictory fashion. But hey, all in the name of meaningless callbacks, easy jumpscares, and strange cliffhangers. No really, the ending of this film is hilariously meaningless!
Okay let’s get into the three elements that comprise this garbage: Narrative, performances, and scares. Performances, scares, and narrative. First off, the performances are all pretty bad. I feel bad for this cast, but they are given NOTHING to work with. This seems to be the result of a generally inexperienced writer/director pushing laughable acting choices on talented performers. And there are more than a few horror vets in here! Don’t get me wrong, there’s a few decent moments, but that only reminded me more of the wasted potential.
Oh also horror films need to be scary. This isn’t. The design for the semi-titular ghosts are- just so bad. They look like moody zombies. So that sucks compared to such a creative and iconic look for this series. And of course every single scare in this film is a quick and obvious jumpscare that has no follow-through or repercussions on the film. Because I guess these ghosts would rather scare the protagonists than, you know, kill them. Cause that’s definitely consistent with the franchise!
Easily the worst choice in this film is the narrative order. First of all, it’s kinda told from the perspective of an investigator following the case. THIS SHOULD WORK! But alas, it’s not only messy, it’s inconsistent. But as generally lifeless as the tone in this film is, the choice to keep the climax for every timeline for the finale of the film is just- so terrible. It means you have to sit through a boring 75 minutes of unimportant characters and hollow jumpscares only to have five minutes of everyone dying (even though the protagonist has already figured everything out), dumb cliffhanger and its over. If I could pick one choice that kills any film this year, this would be one of the worst. So if you haven’t seen the new Grudge, save yourself the time. 2/10.
So we sat through 4.5 hours of Grudge just so I (Ryan) could toss the new Grudge on my worst list at the last second. Poor Rachel had to sit through most of this with me, so I just wanted to give her a quick shoutout! She didn’t like ANY of these movies, but I think in the end the original it the only one worth watching. Go check it out, and hey if you’ve seen any of these or any other Grudge films in the series, leave a like or a comment below and let us know what you thought of them! (And of course this is hinting at the Top 10 Worst Films of 2020 which will be coming this Saturday if all goes according to plan! So stay tuned!
-review by Ryan Prince