2004's "The Grudge
" was a creepy, spooky and altogether ooky American remake of a popular Japanese film known as "Ju-on." With the same directorTakashi Shimizutackling both, the stateside update remained faithful and respectful to its unorthodox source material while retaining the indelible Tokyo setting. The basic plot hook behind the horror happenings dealt, in a nutshell, with a house haunted by a powerful curse brought upon by the brutal murders of a mother and young son at the hands of her husband and his father. Now vengeful, rage-filled spirits, they have the power to haunt and eventually destroy any living soul that steps foot inside the doors of their abode. The main character was college student Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar), studying abroad in a foreign land and infected by the curse when she goes to work at the house as a caregiver for an elderly woman. A desperate attempt to burn the structure down did nothing to reverse her grim fate.
In "The Grudge 2," also directed by Takashi Shimizu, fellow returning screenwriter Stephen Susco marries the premise of the one subplot from the original "Ju-on" that was snipped out of the U.S. version with two original stories. The three threads, each taking place in separate time frames over the course of a two-year period, are interwoven together in a film that is more of the same, only less coherent. With her mother seriously ill, Aubrey (Amber Tamblyn) travels overseas to Tokyo to see big sister Karen when news comes that she is in the hospital. Shortly after Aubrey gets there, Karen suffers a mysterious death. Determined to figure out who or what killed her, Aubrey and journalist Eason (Edison Chen) link the trouble back to the house Karen previously warned her not to go into. Naturally, she doesn't listen.
Meanwhile, set two years later, snooty high school girls Vanessa (Teresa Palmer) and Miyuki (Misako Uno) egg on quiet outsider Allison (Arielle Kebbel) to follow them to the cursed house. Once inside, a countdown to their own deaths begins. And finally, in Chicago, Illinois, a familyfather Bill (Christopher Cousins), new wife Trish (Jennifer Beals), and his son Jake (Matthew Knight) and daughter Lacey (Sarah Roemer)rapidly deteriorate as they fall victim to the grudge without, it seems, any connection to the house in Japan. Has the curse finally found a way to infect people across the globe?
As often happens with horror sequels, "The Grudge 2" follows the structure of the original but can't capture the same magic. Both simultaneously juggle three separate story arcs occurring out of chronological order, only for all of them to collide in the finale. The difference is that "The Grudge
" was tightly written, solidly plotted, and took its time in setting up the scare moments, while "The Grudge 2" has less-defined characters and a number of clumsy holes in its narrative that sometimes render the film too confusing to be as frightening as it wants to be. Without giving anything away, it is natural to wonder about the logistics of Aubrey abandoning her sister's corpse and going off on a wild goose chase that can only head for disaster. How, too, does the curse all of a sudden become contagious, with people able to get it just by being around others that are infected? And, how is what happens to Aubrey at the end possible? There are a few possible theories, but director Takashi Shimizu fails to answer most of the questions he presents to the audience.
Make no mistake, "The Grudge 2" is an inferior product and disappointingly forgets to include some of the best things from its predecessor, such as spirit Kayako's (Takako Fuji) demonic crawl down the stairs. Nonetheless, the film still works. Numerous scenes ratchet up supreme levels of suspense and a healthy number of goosebumps, such as one set in a hotel room and another in a high school guidance counselor's office. The film's stalking scenes outnumber the first film, and the picture craftily introduces new ideas and ways of getting underneath the viewer's skin rather than just repeating itself. The on-location shooting in Japan is also an invaluable asset that lends flavor and authenticity to the proceedings.
Like Sarah Michelle Gellar (2004's "Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed
") in "The Grudge
," Amber Tamblyn (2005's "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
"), as Aubrey, isn't asked to do much more than look petrified or distraught. She does this well, however, and even works up some stirring sympathy in scenes where it is suggested that her mother always preferred the more outgoing Karen to her. As Allison, the beautiful Arielle Kebbel (2006's "John Tucker Must Die
") stretches her wings and plays against-type as an outcast whose life is destroyed when she is tricked into going in the cursed house. Matthew Knight (2005's "Cheaper by the Dozen 2
") is very strong as the young Jake, who senses before the rest of his family does that trouble is afoot, but doesn't know how to stop it. Knight is superb at eliciting a sense of dread on his face that feels real rather than like acting. As the ill-fated Karen, Gellar shows up long enough to run around a hospital and finish off her character for good. The rest of the performances do their perfunctory job and nothing more. Character development isn't a top priority in this series.
Uneven or not, one has to commend "The Grudge 2" for staying true to its convictions and not compromising in the name of an upbeat denouement. Though the rules have changed since the original, the outcome remains the same, and director Takashi Shimizu makes it clear that, once the curse is set into motion, there is absolutely no way to stop it. It's a rather grim and depressing notion, but one that retains its Japanese roots and sensibilities to a fault. For viewers on the search for legitimate frights that don't rely on gore to go along with their Halloween, "The Grudge 2" fits the bill. Just don't go in expecting to make sense out of the convoluted story, because there isn't any.