The Grudge


Rating 3½

Directed by Takashi Shimizu

Written by Stephen Susco, based on 'Ju-On: The Grudge' written by Takashi Shimizu

Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr, William Mapother, Clea DuVall, KaDee Strickland, Grace Zabriskie, Ted Raimi, Bill Pullman and Ryo Ishibashi

Sarah Michelle Gellar has said she was taken by surprise by the long hours films crews are expected to work in Japan, compared to their colleagues in America. Takashi Shimizu has admitted it took him a while to get used to the working practices of the American actors because it conflicted with his usual working methods. He has also said he was initially surprised that Gellar took such a keen interest in every aspect of the filming process because Japanese actors are not expected to have much involvement in the production other than acting their parts in accordance with the instructions of the director. Gellar has said everyone was extremely polite and kind to her, but she did quickly notice that members of the film crew seemed slightly uncomfortable when she asked them questions -- and Shimizu would look on with benign amusement when she made suggestions to him about various things.

“In Japan actors and actresses can work all day. As long as we put them in a taxi and they get home safely after working, that’s fine. But here, American actors have only a certain amount of hours they can work in a day; then that’s it. It was really hard for me to work around that -- the scheduling, the timing -- with those actors. Other than that, the actors themselves were great. It was a really great experience for me to work with them.”
Takashi Shimizu:

Gellar was the last of the American actors to be cast. She says a friend sent her the script together with a DVD copy of ‘Ju-on: The Grudge’, which she found waiting for her when she returned home from a brief vacation. She read the script and watched the DVD that same evening and personally contacted Sam Raimi the following day, making known her interest in the central role of Karen Davis. Raimi has confirmed this story, saying he was initially reluctant because he didn’t think the budget would accommodate her involvement. However, she persisted, and Raimi claims it was her unrestrained enthusiasm about the film and her willingness to audition for the role that eventually won him over.

‘The Grudge’ had a $10 million production budget. Executives at Sony Pictures Entertainment later stated that their ‘best scenario’ prediction was for a $15 million opening weekend. The final worldwide gross exceeded $187 million, making it one of the most profitable films of 2004.

When I read the shocking reviews ‘The Grudge’ received I am absolutely mystified. As ever, there were some good reviews, but many dismissed the film as a worthless piece of garbage. Gellar came in for a lot of criticism for her performance. Roger Ebert has been quite supportive of some of Gellar’s films in the past, but he considers ‘The Grudge’ to be one of the worst ten films of 2004. I don’t agree with this, but it’s a perfectly valid, if subjective, opinion. However, in his review of the film he claimed the non-linear timeline employed in the narrative is impossible to follow. I find it surprising coming from a film critic and writer of Ebert’s experience and reputation.

“The Grudge has a great opening scene, I’ll grant you that. Bill Pullman wakes up next to his wife, greets the day from the balcony of their bedroom, and then - well, I, for one, was gob-smacked. I’m not sure how this scene fits into the rest of the movie, but then I’m not sure how most of the scenes fit into the movie… I eventually lost all patience. The movie may have some subterranean level on which the story strands connect and make sense, but it eluded me.”
Roger Ebert: Chicago Sun Times

There is not a great deal of difference between ‘Ju-on: The Grudge’ (Shimizu’s Japanese original) and the American-financed remake. I think the original is the better of the two films. It has an atmosphere that is both foreboding and alien. Compensating for this, the remake does attempt to show that the American characters feel a sense of displacement within Japanese culture and I think this works very well, although there is no great emphasis placed on it. In both films the characters are merely part of the fabric of the story. Their presence and personalities always remain very sketchy as they are sucked into the unfolding horror. This is very deliberate, but it’s one of the things that some critics reacted against.

“…The pacing is so slow and the actors so numb and uninvolved that the horror elements are lost in a fog of dullness. Lo and behold! Gellar cannot act. Miraculously coasting up until now, The Grudge solidifies Gellar’s status as an actress in need of acting lessons. Instead of expressing emotions, she makes amateur grimaces. She is not in touch with her character. In fact, no one is. And, since for the first half of the movie the camera is trained on Gellar’s frozen face, this is not good. The most important expression in a horror movie – fear - is never seen… Is Karen happy in Japan? Does she like her job? What are her feelings about weird things? Is she a survivor? Is she smart or just a dumb young lady getting by in Tokyo? Gellar is out of her element here.”
Victoria Alexander: Films in Review

All the performances in ‘The Grudge’ (and in ‘Ju-on: The Grudge’) are quite similar. There is a kind of ennui that envelops each character. It could be argued, as many critics who reviewed ‘The Grudge’ have done, that this is simply down to bad acting. On the other hand, it might be suggested that these actors are giving the performances asked of them by the director, who is attempting to create a very specific atmosphere in the film. Effectively, it’s a mood piece.

I must make a special mention of Ryo Ishibashi, in the role of Detective Nakagawa. I think this is a great performance. Ishibashi imbues his character with a quiet dignity, but also a sense of sadness and resignation about the inevitability of the terrible events that are unfolding around him.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think this is a really good film.


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