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John’s Horror Corner: The Grudge (2020), not a reboot at all, but a jumpy popcorn sidequel with a great cast and dire atmosphere.

April 7, 2020

MY CALL: This was a fun, well-executed horror movie with solidly disturbing imagery. This is also a convoluted film that may confuse viewers with its time-hopping recipe of 10% prequel, 0% of the advertised reboot, 45% paralleling The Grudge (2004), 40% paralleling The Grudge 2 (2006), and 5% acknowledging The Grudge 3 (2009) timeline. So I’d recommend you watch parts 1 and 2 first. MORE MOVIES LIKE The Grudge: Well, The Grudge (2004), The Grudge 2 (2006), Ju-on: The Grudge (2002) and Ju-on: The Grudge 2 (2003) would be the best place to start; followed by The Ring (2002) and Ringu (1998), then Ju-on (2000) and Ju-on 2 (2000). I’d skip The Grudge 3 (2009), but I’d highly recommend Lights Out (2016).

I hope you wanted more ghost-croaking and well-placed jump scares, because that’s what you’re getting! And while better in scares, effects and execution than the original Ju-on: The Grudge (2002), Ju-on: The Grudge 2 (2003), and maybe even passing The Grudge (2004) to reach The Grudge 2 (2006) jumpy-fun quality, this sidequel lacks the clarity in storytelling of its 2004/2006 predecessors. Or does it? At first it may seem to have radically disjunct, piecemeal, timeframe-hopping confusion when actually, like many of the later Saw sequels (parts IV-VI), this “sequel” is best viewed right after freshly seeing The Grudge (2004) and The Grudge 2 (2006).

Why? Well, this franchise installment makes basically no effort at all to explain the “rules” of the ghost, the origin of the ghost, why this ghost has “a grudge,” what’s up with the little boy ghost, or why on Earth we’re seeing scenes that take place in two timelines (2004 and 2005) prior to the present (2006). Wait… or was the present 2009? So… how many timelines? See? This gets confusing if your Grudge game isn’t strong.

When we see a caretaker leaving Tokyo to return home to Pennsylvania, she mentions Yoko (the caretaker prior to Sarah Michelle Gellar from the 2004 movie). Then we jump to 2006 as Detectives Goodman (Demián Bichir; The Nun, Alien: Covenant, Machete Kills) and Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough; Oblivion, Mandy, Black Mirror S4: Crocodile) come across the scene of the long dead and shockingly decayed body of Lorna Moody (Jacki Weaver; Bird Box, Haunt)—whose 2005 timeline is later explored—and questions the deeply disturbed Faith (Lin Shaye; CrittersInsidious 1-4, A Nightmare on Elm StreetChillerama). Then we back up again to 2004 and we meet expecting couple Peter (John Cho; Searching, The Exorcist series, Sleepy Hollow series) and Nina Spencer (Betty Gilpin; The Hunt, Stuber, American Gods, GLOW). And what the heck happened to Detective Wilson (William Sadler; Tales from the Crypt S1, Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight, VFW, Ava’s Possessions) in his great and very creepy cameo? The actors all did great and the atmosphere was consistently unnervingly creepy. But all these disparate stories are just confounding.

What’s going on here is that this sequel takes place before and during the events of The Grudge (2004) and The Grudge 2 (2006)… and apparently The Grudge 3 (2009) as well. Yup… This was first advertised as a franchise reboot, but that it most certainly is not. Writer and director Nicolas Pesce (Piercing, The Eyes of My Mother) succeeds in making very engaging and very creepy scenes that pack a mean punch. But the connections to the other two films, while obvious, are also somewhat tenuous. I’d like more direct mentions of some key events or characters to coax me along as to “this is why this is important.” It certainly would have eased my confusion in the first 30-40 minutes of this movie—when I thought I was watching a reboot! But you know what, it’s still pretty entertaining. And again, had I just seen the previous films (right before this), the storytelling would have worked much better.

Disturbing and grotesque imagery of self-mutilation and twisted cadavers infested with writhing maggots serve up some eerie surprises. In fact, horrifying dead bodies (like in The Ring, but different) is quite a strong suit in this film. That, and the franchise-typical jump-scare fare.

You don’t necessarily need to have seen the Japanese originals (2002, 2003) or even American remakes (2004, 2006) to enjoy this, but it certainly helps to know what’s going on. However, if they are recently familiar to you, then this sequel/sidequel seems to thrive on the foundation built by its forefathers regarding “the rules” of Kayako and the origins of the ghost. And like its predecessors, I’d say this was jumpy but largely empty fun. The film is well-made in many respects, but nothing here is going to resonate for long.

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