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IN SHORT: Another worst of the Year candidate. [Rated PG-13 for Mature Thematic Material, Disturbing Images/ Terror/ Violence and Some Sensuality. 110 minutes]
The explanation of the MPAA Rating is scarier than the whole film
The first thing we noticed about The Grudge was the PG-13 rating. That means this scareflick was no slice 'n' dice movie, which is fine by us. We sat a few rows back of a bunch of American fanboys of Japanese horror films, all of them delighted to be planted for an advance look at Sam Raimi's adaptation of the Japanese horror hit (series) originally called Ju-On. Now entitled The Grudge, it is a film that thrilled and delighted all the fanboys in our audience.
Of course, they've had a subtitled tape or DVD to devour over and over again (like all fanboys we know) and won't comprehend the words that follow from here on down. Regular readers know it is the long term policy of the site (ten years being as long term as we've now gotten) that we don't compare to Source Material. We don't borrow the DVD. We don't rent the tape. We don't read the book or the thankfully supplied story summary that comes with out press notes, the latter being cracked only once we've seen the film. That being said, and with an eye towards all the regular movie ticket buyers out there, The Grudge is a thoroughly incomprehensible waste of time and money.
It begins promisingly enough, though, with a home nurse named Yoko (Yoko Maki) arriving to take care of a [comatose] elderly woman named Emma (Grace Zabriskie). We are in a suburb of Tokyo, with principal characters of Occidental extraction to make the film's marketing more palatable to Western audiences. We'll stay in that house a heck of a lot longer than Yoko will, and she's gone before the opening credits. It's the only bit o' snuff which is scary and the film is almost all downhill from there on in.
When Yoko doesn't report for work the next day, the Care Center for which she works asks Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) to step in for her friend. All Karen will learn is that, once upon a time, the home was the site of a murder suicide, which explains the ghostly noises and, later, the appearance of a small boy. Except when its a girl that shows up. We think the former is the ghost of a boy killed in the house and the latter is the Japanese Spirit representing Death. As we wrote above, the film is incomprehensible, so we're guessing. We do know that when the boy opens his mouth to scream, the sound that comes out sounds like a cat being strangled.
Once Emma shuffles off this mortal coil, all who inhabit the house -- mostly Emma's children and a spouse -- will meet their Makers. That leaves our name brand star the only survivor to battle the Force of Darkness. She's got a boyfriend, Doug (Jason Behr), and he's not much good. Strangely enough, one ghost doesn't bother to stay in the house. It goes off to do a murder which we won't explain, because we just figured out the reason (24 hours later). We can't be sure that the film is any deeper so we'll keep the surprise to our self.
Here's the big problem as we see it: The Grudge is heavy on symbolism that, we're guessing here, will make perfect sense to those who know Japanese culture (or who have memorized the original films) and none to the rest of us. There is, for us Westerners, a black cat that appears out of nowhere from time to time and its place in the great scheme of things is -- here's that big word again -- incomprehensible. While it tries to explain the background as something about rage and violent death, it's a bit of reasoning that was quite beyond this old brain.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Grudge, he would have paid . . .
An utter waste of our non-fanboy time time.
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