The Grudge Movie Review

Remaking hit Japanese horror movies (a la 'The Ring') is Hollywood's latest plan to rake in big bucks without actually having to be creative or original -- and while "The Grudge" is nothing more than a cultural twist on the standard-issue haunted house movie, I will give credit to director Takashi Shimizu (remaking his own film "Ju-On") for giving me goosebumps. Lots and lots of goosebumps.

He succeeds on this front by providing truly chilling ghosts -- floating specters of inky black tendrils that form into the gray porcelain faces, horrifically gaping mouths and kohl-ringed, milk-saucer eyes of a family murdered in a Tokyo house that is now occupied (but not for long!) by the wife and terrified, catatonic mother of an American businessman.

But Shimizu also lends the film a unique structure that helps set it apart from the kind of prefabricated scary movies that dominate the genre. He follows a psychological (rather than chronological) narrative into an interactive patchwork of long flashbacks that reveal the genesis of the haunting and tie the whole six-degrees-of-separation story together in its latest victim -- an exchange student played by Sarah Michelle Gellar.

A nursing-school grad who provides care for the schizoid mom when the regular nurse mysteriously disappears, Gellar is not called on to do much more than look terrified while putting together pieces of a puzzle that keeps leading her back to the house for more stomach-knotting encounters. It's hard to imagine why an actress best known for kicking ghoulie butt on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" would take any role in another spook story, let alone one in which she's a standard-issue victim.

But she plays the part well, and her fear and disorientation are terrifically enhanced by the decision to keep the Japanese setting in this remake, which creates unfamiliar superstitions, language barriers and cultural dislocation that isolate Gellar (and the other American hauntees) all the more from the tangible world around her.

"The Grudge" suffers from a lack of character development and several minor gaffes in its own internal logic, as well as the kind of often nonsensical horror-movie plot calculation that leaves shamelessly obvious openings for endless sequels. But unlike 99 percent of such flicks, it doesn't insult the intelligence or depend on cheap jump-frights to sustain its substantial tension. "The Grudge" earns its goosebumps honestly.

Comments

The Grudge Rating

" Weak "

Rating: PG-13, WIDE: Friday, October 22, 2004

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