Posts Tagged ‘The Grudge’

And welcome to my first review of 2020! As many of you in the horror community are aware, the Grudge film series is famous both in its homeland in Japan, where it is known as the Ju-On movies, and in America, where both the original films and the first remake are considered classics in terrifying people.* However, the sequel to the American remake was only so-so, and the direct-to-DVD Grudge 3 was awful. Thus ten years have passed since the last film was released. When word of a new film got out, people were skeptical, but some were willing to give it a chance based on the trailers. Including me.

2020’s The Grudge begins with a live-in nurse leaving the original house from The Grudge and heading home to Pennsylvania.** However, she brings the curse home with her, and ends up killing her family and herself, making her home and her family an extension of the original curse. Years later, a detective enters the house while investigating a possibly-related murder, setting off a chain of events that will impact her life forever.

So this is technically a side-story to the original Grudge remake, following a new family of spirits and a new community to torment with the curse. The filmmakers did this so they could hopefully reinvigorate the franchise.

And they failed miserably on that front. While the film is told in a non-linear fashion and has plenty of callbacks to the 2004 film, switching Kayako and the Saeki family out for a new family of spirits was a huge mistake. Not only do these new ghosts feel so generic that they could come from any other ghost-centered horror movie, Kayako is an iconic part of the franchise. You can’t separate one from the other. It’d be like calling a movie Friday the 13th and having it focus on Jason’s cousin Matthew Bellman, who wears a football helmet and kills people who enter an abandoned ski resort. It just wouldn’t work.***

Even if you don’t factor that in, the film leaves a lot to be desired. As I said, the ghosts feel like they could come from any horror film, and the rest of the film feels pretty lackluster. Most of the scares derive from jumpscares, which are there and then gone pretty quickly. Most of the plot and acting feels pretty phoned in, and Lin Shaye’s appearance is horribly wasted (good thing she’s had better roles in most other horror films).

Is there anything good about the film? Well, there is a scene where the main character has to defend herself from the spirits in the dark basement of the police station that’s kind of tense, and a bloody scene with LIn Shaye that’s super-freaky. And John Cho as a realtor dealing with a crisis in his marriage is a surprising highlight of the film.

But other than that, 2020’s The Grudge is a poor horror film that was banking more on name visibility than actually trying. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving this one a 1.7. Only watch if you want to make a drinking game out of how many times you see the number 4 (which in Japanese sounds a lot like the word for death). Otherwise, watch either the 2004 remake or the original Japanese films, but definitely not this.

I’m off to get the remake from the library. I need my faith in the series restored.

This is a bad start to 2020’s horror films. Hopefully the other ones coming out this month are better by leaps and bounds.

*No joke, when I first saw the American remake, my sister asked me to watch it for her to let her know if she could watch it without getting scared. I watched that movie in our basement, and then I never let her near that franchise until I moved out of the house. As far as I know, she still hasn’t watched any of the films.

**Why a live-in nurse goes from Pennsylvania to Japan for work when her family is still in Pennsylvania is not actually explained, so don’t expect an answer from me. I can only guess that there was a sudden shortage in live-in nursing jobs and they were only available in Japan, because otherwise it makes no fucking sense whatsoever.

***And it would also be worse than the 2009 remake, as hard as that is to believe. Yes, I found another way to blast that horrific movie! Screw you, Michael Bay! Your horror movies are travesties and deserve to be erased from history!

From the moment I heard about this film, I wanted to see it. It’s horror, it takes place in Japan, specifically Aokigahara (one of the places on my first list of haunted locations I’d like to visit), and the trailers made this thing look awesome. I was excited.

Sadly, the trailers were better than the movie itself, and I will explain why:

First, the story. Natalie Dormer plays Sarah Price, a woman with a cliched psychic connection to her troubled identical twin sister Jess, also played by Dormer. When there’s a disturbance in the Force, Sarah learns that her sister, who was teaching in Japan, has gone into Aokigahara, a forest near Mount Fuji that is a common place for suicides and has a reputation for being haunted by the extremely angry spirits trapped there. Sarah heads to Japan to save her sister, and ventures into the forest, which in turn brings all sorts of hell upon her and unearths inner darkness Sarah never wanted dredged up.

I had a lot of problems with this movie. First, there’s the protagonist. Sarah Price is not a very interesting character. It’s no fault of Dormer–I’ve seen her in other stuff, I know she’s a great actress–but beyond the psychic connection and a reckless love for her sister, the character is rather flat and dull. She does border on interesting when talking about her past, but that’s it. In fact, most of the characters are rather boring. Probably the only one that peaks your interest is Aiden, who helps Sarah look for her sister, but that’s mostly because you’re never sure what his motives are or if he can be trusted. And Sarah’s husband? You really could cut him from the film and it wouldn’t affect a thing.

Next, the storytelling and the mood. The movie moves rather slowly through most of the first hour, establishing exposition and introducing us to the relationship between Sarah and Jess. Important, but not particularly interesting. It isn’t until they’re already deep in the forest that the story actually tries to scare you, but even then most of the scares are jump scares, and even the best of jump scares are meaningless if they’re not tempered with other stuff, like a tense, suspenseful and horrifying mood, which the movie only really does just the once. By the end of the movie, when the film tries to surprise you with a few twists, one feels forced and awkward, while the other you saw coming a mile away. Just not very effective in terms of storytelling or making you feel scared.

Finally, there’s the effects. Now, I know on a budget of ten million dollars you can’t do much in the special effects department, but the effects they use in this film are for the most part pretty stupid. There’s a scene where a ghost is revealed in a cave, and I was expecting like out of The Ring or The Grudge (originally Japanese stories, if you didn’t know). Instead we get a goofy fanged monster-girl that looks more like a carnival attraction monster than a real ghost, and in the last few minutes of the film we get some CGI ghosts, which are about as scary as a frying pan. There’s one shot in the last few seconds of movie with such a ghost, and I felt more contempt than fear when I saw it, because it was so obviously fake. They might as well have had an actor put on a sheet with eye-holes, save a few dollars on computer-rendering, because that’s how lame it was.

So did The Forest have anything I liked? Actually yes: besides beautiful shots of Tokyo (always nice to see Tokyo when it’s not animated or hand-drawn), the film does a great job of making you question what’s real. Once Sarah is really trapped in Aokigahara, you find yourself questioning everything: river directions, people’s intentions, whether anything you’re seeing is real or all in Sarah’s head. You even question for most of the film what is the real source of the hauntings Sarah experiences: is it ghosts or a living forest? Or is it maybe psychological or even an infection from some bug? The movie makes a good case for all four throughout the course of the story, and even now I’m not really sure what the true answer is. Not that I’m spending a lot of time thinking about the answer, mind you.

Another thing that the movie has going for it is that when the jump scares occur, you really do jump pretty hard. One woman in the theater even cried out after one particular jump scare. That’s not enough to redeem the film, but it does work in its favor. And finally, the film’s got the wheels in my head turning, looking for stories that could come out of it. In my opinion, inspiring me and other writers and creative types is always a good thing, especially if it leads to good stories.

On the whole though, I find The Forest below average, earning a 2.6 out of 5. It’s premise is promising, and it tries hard, but on the whole can’t deliver. You’d be better off staying at home and renting The Ring or The Grudge if you want Japanese-inspired horror. At least this film didn’t ruin my desire to visit Aokigahara (only to see it and sate my horror author’s interest in creepy stuff, though. I would not visit it for the reason other people do).

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