As a culture, we are not unfamiliar with the concept of the cinematic reboot. Consider how many iterations of Batmans, Spider-men, and the Star Trek universe have arrived at our neighborhood theaters in the last decade. Not to mention the less than stellar attempt to revive the Fantastic Four, though, to be fair, the original was never more than barely competent. When it works, it refreshes the franchise, and brings joy to audiences, not to mention studios who rake in those sweet, sweet franchise dollars. And so we have come to THE GRUDGE, a reboot of an American remake of Japanese original that was definitely eerie, always unsettling, and occasionally terrifying. The profits were great, and who can blame a studio for wanting to send up a trial balloon? Alas, filmmaker Nicolas Pesce has confused reboot with retread, delivering a flick that is leaden, predictable, and defiantly derivative, not just of its source material, but of every low-budget horror flick produced in the sound era. Problems abound, but the biggest is that the action is laughable rather than scary, even when horror icon Lyn Shaye nibbles the nubs of her fingers while screaming to be fed.
We have not one, not two, not three, but four narratives, all centered around a cursed house in small-town Pennsylvania. Think anthology without the courage of its convictions. In an attempt to provide continuity about the move of the action from Japan to the U. S. of A. Pesce has an American in Japan (Tara Westwood) fatefully nudging a trash bag back in 2004, and thereby becoming saddled with the ghost of someone who has died in a state of rage. That, for those unfamiliar with the premise of the original, JU-ON, is how the curse arrives in this plane of existence. Said American returns home to a loving husband and daughter, and promptly murders them. We don’t discover the specifics until much later, after we have tripped perfunctorily through 2006, and newly widowed Officer Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough) discovering the case that broke her new partner (Demián Bichir) in that ci-mentioned small town. He got off lucky, though, because it drove his then-partner (Willam Sadler) insane.
In a maddening exercise in bad narrative structure, the timeline traipses back and forth between the then and the now as the house takes its toll on a loving elderly couple (Ms. Shaye and Frankie Faison), the do-gooder who drops in on them (Jacki Weaver in very bad eye-makeup), and the real estate agents (John Cho and Betty Gilpin) who were tasked with selling the house after it became cursed. There are not correspondences to play off one another and no advancement of the backstory. Instead, the film misses every opportunity to build suspense or make a salient point even as the camera lingers on decomposing corpses and the ravaged face of an unsuccessful suicide attempt. The trick of having that Japanese girl (Junko Bailey) scuttering around before disappearing, done so well in the original, is rendered a cliché, becoming the comic relief in a film that badly needs something going for it.
The actors do what they can, taking their lines much more seriously than anyone in the audience will. It’s a brave mustering, though Riseborough spends the film looking mournful rather than scared or exuding the hard-headed determination her character has in discovering why so many people associated with the cursed house have come to a bad end. It makes her scenes with Bichir, as they parse their respective losses, work on a basic level. If only they were in another film altogether, and Bichir were fully present.
THE GRUDGE here verges on the edge of becoming a parody of itself, and not a good one: lackluster in execution, moribund in concept, and irritating in result