erasing clouds

Viewers Should Hold The Grudge Against Hollywood

review by matthew webber

I had never heard of The Grudge, the latest Hollywood remake of a Japanese horror hit, until it grossed $40 million at the box office its debut weekend. I should have read this as one of the many warnings not to waste a half-hour’s salary on it.

1) For awhile, I was seeing one movie a week, and I had never seen a preview of The Grudge. I mustn’t watch movies with the same target audience; therefore, I am not a member of The Grudge’s target audience.

2) The Grudge stars the Vampire Slayer herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar. Sure, she’s hot, in a blonde, TV-star kind of way, and I don’t mind looking at her for two hours. But some of her previous film credits? The Scooby Doo and I Know What You Did Last Summer franchises.

3) Reviewers kept comparing The Grudge to The Ring, a film I thought was overrated and more eerie than scary.

In The Grudge, Gellar plays an American nurse named Karen who visits the Japanese home of an American family with a curse or a ghost or something evil or something; and the thing tries to kill her and everyone else who sets foot in the house; and little boys, cats, and something like ink are involved. The movie is set in Japan, just like the original, which maybe was scarier, or at least the audience maybe shared the same collective mythology.

In an epigraph, we’re told it’s a Japanese legend that when a person dies in a state of rage or fury, his/her spirit remains to haunt the place of death. The spirit – here it comes now – carries a grudge. Or something like that, complete with boldface words. Karen learns the history of the house and of the spirit by reading a diary and looking at some photos, and then she has an out-of-body experience or travels back in time or enters some parallel universe or something that – I might as well be honest – I didn’t really get.

The ending didn’t satisfy, and the film – just like The Ring! – was more eerie than scary. The movie wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t quite horrific enough either. Takashi Shimizu adapted his own movie, which was executive produced by Sam Raimi (the director of the cult-classic Evil Dead series, other films I think are kind of lame but everyone else thinks are parodying the horror genre and therefore are brilliant), so there shouldn’t have been so much that got lost in the translation.

Movies with vaguely defined spirits who don’t have much motivation for killing humans other than they’re the kind of spirits who don’t need much motivation for killing humans are not my exactly my trick-or-treat bag. I should have kept The Grudge to an impulse rental with friends, when the point of the evening is laughing and eating junk food instead of paying attention, when the point is to ponder the plausibility of the featured horror movie instead of the plausibility of your presence in the theater. Then, it wouldn’t be so bad. In fact, it might be awesome, because you wouldn’t have to worry about talking through and missing something you actually want to watch.

And it’s not just me who thinks this, folks. The crowd reaction to a horror movie is a good gauge of its success, and my fellow moviegoers were louder afterwards when they were discussing how unscary The Grudge was than during it when they were supposed to be reacting to the horror.

If we want better horror films, or any films, we should keep a grudge against Hollywood and boycott its next lame-o offering. But $40-million weekends prove that we won’t.

Issue 28, November 2004

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