“The Grudge” is a translation of a Japanese franchise to American theaters from director Takashi Shimizu. While stylistically interesting and packed full of creepy stuff, this horror film is so light on story that this lack overshadows all its other elements.
The story centers around an American girl named Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) who is living in Japan with her scruffy love interest while he does ambiguous work. She spends her time working for an agency that cares for the elderly or mentally disturbed, and one day she is sent to visit an old American woman whose previous caretaker has failed to show up to work. Karen gives it her best shot, only to discover that angry ghosts inhabit this house. If someone dies in the grip of a powerful rage, a curse is born and anyone who gets in the way of that curse will be eclipsed by it. Now several ghosts are stalking Karen.
“The Grudge” plays like its writers had some cool ideas for some scares and tried to write a story that would tie them together. The plot serves little purpose other than to carry us from one overstated scare sequence to another. Karen in particular does almost nothing over the course of the movie. All of the major plot points are revelations about the house’s past, most of them obvious from the information already presented. The biggest problem with the plot is Karen’s lack of any influence at all over the events of the story. Good fiction traditionally involves a protagonist character who must do things, but Karen is never called upon to do anything other than hide from ghosts.
The thin plotline involving Karen is filled out with excessive flashback sequences, which have nothing to do with her. About a quarter of the film is devoted to flashbacks, and the narrative payoff is not worth the time the audience must spend in the past. Rather than provide us with important background information necessary to move the story forward, the flashbacks provide filmmakers with an excuse to include long, drawn-out scare sequences of people being stalked by ghosts. The people being stalked are uninteresting and the scares, while technically well executed, quickly become predictable.
Another element that lessens the film’s scariness is the lack of any logical pattern for the ghosts’ behavior. The key to good supernatural horror is to set limits on your being’s powers and work within those limits. These ghosts seem to be able to do pretty much whatever they want. They can move through telephone lines, physically assault people, and make people think they have hands growing out of the backs of their heads. There is even a scene where a character explains to Karen about ghosts being tied to the places they died, but the ghosts’ powers seem to extend as far from the house as the writers need them to.
The scares in this film, which are beautifully styled, are emphasized to the exclusion of most of the other elements. There is a lot of creepy imagery and sound effects, a couple nice jump scares and some really cool use of lighting and color. In a good movie, they would have served nicely but in “The Grudge” they are overshadowed by the movie’s crappiness. If you like horror movies to tell a story and maintain some sort of logical consistency, don’t bother with “The Grudge.”