It wasn’t so long ago that I was all about the J-Horror. After so many tired retreads of unkillable slashers, haunted houses, demonic possessions, and the zombie/vampire/Frankensteinian-monster troika, it seemed like a welcome opportunity to expand the genre beyond these over-familiar tropes. But a couple of years spent with the various permutations of The Ring, The Grudge, Dark Water, Pulse, et al. have proved that this subgenre can be as repetitive and tiresome as anything Hollywood has devised: The vengeful spirit (onryō to y’all teriyaki-lovers) sates her bloodlust (and it’s almost always a her, and she almost always wears a long, white gown and has lots of long, stringy hair hanging in her face) by taking the lives of innocents, as her reach expands like a contagion from a victim to others in her life (the protagonists are almost always female as well). Some of these films are quite entertaining; others are utterly pointless but, after you’ve seen enough of them, it’s hard to care which is which. It’s like having a really great meatloaf recipe — no matter how good it is, it’s still freakin’ meatloaf.
That said, The Grudge 2 is one of the more flavorful American J-Horror adaptations I’ve seen (and I’ve seen ‘em all), well-paced and, at times, genuinely scary. Its director, Takashi Shimizu, has by this, his sixth film in the Ju-on/The Grudge series, more or less gotten it all down to a science: Open in medias res to disorient the audience, jump back and forth in time but avoid or at least delay any exposition, have the ghosties make creaky sounds and start popping up out of nowhere, then just keep intercutting between the various time periods/storylines until most or all of the major characters are dead. Newcomers to the series may be confused by the discontinuity and lack of backstory, but you don’t have to understand what’s going on to get the willies from the clever way Shimizu takes the ordinary and gives it just enough of a spin to make it horrific.
It’s nice to see that Shimizu has been able to maintain his involvement with the series he created, though it’s a little annoying that this movie, like its predecessor, is set in a Tokyo populated almost entirely by Americans. Even the biggest (non-ghost) Asian character is a Chinese man who’s a native English-speaker (Canadian-born Edison Chen), and the few Japanese characters all speak perfect English, unless the plot calls for them not to. How is it that nurses in a modern Tokyo hospital are completely stymied by the most simple questions while a crazy witch doctor in a tiny, rural village all but quotes Pepys? Little here holds up to logical scrutiny — witness the way the ghosts sometimes kill their victims outright, other times use them as carriers who expose others to their vengeance, and still other times possess the victims and use them to carry out their will — but who ever went to a horror movie looking for logic? The Grudge 2 made me jump at least four times and, honestly, that’s more than I expected from it.
Jeremy C. Fox is a founding critic of Pajiba and a member of the Online Film Critics Society.You may email him at jeremycfox[at]gmail.com.
The Grudge 2 / Jeremy C. Fox
Film | October 16, 2006 | Comments ()