I have very mixed feelings about Nicolas Pesce’s take on The Grudge.
On one hand, it’s got a lot of good scares. If you’re not a fan of jump scares, you’re really going to hate this movie, because the second half of the film is overflowing with them. I didn’t mind the jump scares; I’ve seen enough American remakes of Japanese horror movies to understand their place in the subgenre. Also, what The Grudge lacks in subtlety it makes up for in gore effects, set design, and casting.
On the other hand, however, this latest remake adds nothing of value to the story. Pesce’s movie isn’t a terrible remake, and it could’ve been an absolute disaster in less capable hands, but I strongly prefer 2004’s The Grudge simply because it felt like something new during its time of release. I was a fourteen-year-old kid at the time, so maybe I’m looking at the previous remake through rose-tinted glasses, but I remember having an absolute blast when I saw it in theaters. It was cheesy and just as full of jump scares, but it didn’t take itself too seriously.
Pesce’s The Grudge, however, takes itself very seriously. Perhaps Pesce was working through a Lars von Trier marathon while writing this movie, because it was far more depressing than it was scary…and that seems to be his overall goal with this remake. It got to the point where every character with more than two minutes of screen time had something depressing to say, and most of them have a tragic backstory or morbid career. One of the characters specializes in assisted suicide, and during her fateful visit to 44 Rayburn Drive (the curse’s newest location), she discusses compassionately ending the lives of dozens of patients. Another character lost her husband to cancer not long before the story’s beginning, a detail which influences neither the story nor the character’s decision making. Another character is a pregnant woman who finds out her baby will likely be born with a crippling disease…and I’ll just let you guess how her story goes.
Pesce’s The Grudge isn’t enjoyable, and that was my biggest problem with the movie. In a way, it felt like watching a college freshman deliver a long-winded presentation with very little research beyond the superficial details. I have no doubt Pesce loves the Ju-on series, nor do I doubt he has an extensive knowledge of the “J-Horror” library and its various tropes…but I don’t think he put a lot of effort into synthesizing everything he loves about horror into something new. I would’ve loved to see him push the envelope in more creative ways than “how can I make this character bleak as hell?” I was hoping he would at least play with the lore a little bit, which may or may not have been received well (I mean…we all saw what happened to Rian Johnson when he played with Star Wars too much). This movie is simply a reminder that 2004’s The Grudge still exists, and that we should go watch it again for that sweet, sweet nostalgia.
Also, if you’re going into this movie hoping to see Kayako’s creepy contortions, you’re going to leave disappointed. Of all the things to change, I’m not sure why Pesce toned down Kayako’s presence. Every moment she’s on screen is pretty much just a quick flash of her face, and it’s nowhere near as unnerving as in the original movie or 2004’s remake.
As mentioned previously, casting was one of the high points of this movie. Lin Shaye was a big selling point, and her performance was just as amazing as I anticipated. The child actors also did a great job, and Zoe Fish stole every scene she was in with her creepy smirk and overall presence. I wish the lead actress, Andrea Riseborough, was given a better character to sink her teeth into, because she at least made this lackluster story bearable.
While Pesce’s The Grudge is underwhelming, I suspect this had a lot to do with too many producer cooks in the kitchen. Pesce is a fairly new name on the big screen, and being that few unestablished directors get final say in their movies, I’m sure he doesn’t deserve much of the negative criticism this movie will earn him. Hopefully he gets a few more chances in the genre, because he seems like he’s got all the right ingredients but is missing the bottom half of the recipe.
I give Pesce’s The Grudge 5/10 Kayakos.