July 21st, 2004
After some time of underground hype, thanks to its availability on import DVD's and peer-to-peer networks, the Japanese horror film "Ju-On" (film has lost its subtitle, "The Grudge") finally makes its belated American theatrical debut this summer, a few months before the release of the American remake starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. Promising a mixture of terror and excitement to rival "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and the "Evil Dead" series, film instead comes off as a nearly bloodless and scare-free exercise in futility, jumping from scene to scene with very little continuity and even less comprehension of the concept of true fear.
After a short title card explaining the concept of "Ju-On," in which a curse is born of a grudge held by a person who dies in the grip of a powerful anger and recreating itself with every subsequent victim, the story begins as Rika, a volunteer home-care worker, is assigned to visit the house of a bed-ridden older woman, after the previous home-care person goes missing. Rika discovers a filthy home and the old woman lying in a soiled bed, perceptibly horrified of an unseen force. Investigating the two-story dwelling, Rika finds in an upstairs bedroom a closet covered with duct tape, where she finds a young boy and a black cat. The boy disappears, and Rika soon sees a spirit floating over the old woman, sending her into a deep shock. Thus begins a series of incidents involving the old woman's son, his wife and younger sister, a close friend of Rika's, the detective who previously investigated a murder at the house, his family and a group of his daughter's friends, all whom fall prey to the vengeance of the spirit where the grudge began.
Like a number of Al Adamson's movies from the 1970s, the film does not deliver on its promises. Like far too many low-budget independent horror films, the scares are few and far between, with the filmmakers sadly substituting extra loud sound effects in place of scenes of real terror. It also does not help that there is not a single character developed to any degree to actually care about their situations. Despite the explanation at the start, there is little attempt to tie most of the characters or storylines, told in a series of Tarantino-esque bouncing back and forth through time sequences, together. Some characters come and go, disappear and presumed dead, only to reappear moments later. Others only show up to help torment specific people at a specific time, despite not having anything to do with any of those previously falling victim to the grudge, before disappearing, never to be heard from or spoken about again. A true deus ex machina.
Not that incoherent storylines and one-dimensional characters are seen as detrimental to an audience's enjoyment of a film. Sometimes, it's fun to just sit back and enjoy a horror movie without complex themes or intricate depictions of interesting people. Provided, of course, the film has genuine scares, an interesting visual motif or effective sound effects. However, this may be the very first time I've seen an R-rated (for some disturbing images) horror film that did not shock me once. A remake of his 2000 direct to video feature, hopefully director Takashi Shimizu will get it right the third time around, being the director of that previously mentioned American remake.
My rating: D