Thursday, June 26, 2008

Visual sludge: the painful incompetence of The Grudge 2 (2006)

Soon after the big success of the Americanized Japanese horror film The Ring, a director named Takishi Shimizu cooked up the similar The Grudge, based on his Japanese film called Ju-On, which concerns two vengeful spirits and a haunted house in Tokyo. Since horror films tend to make money, The Grudge 2 was released by Columbia Pictures studio, and for some extravagantly dumb reason I went to see it.

The film begins with a possessed Jennifer Beals pouring cooking oil over her jealous husband, and then beaning him on the head with a frying pan before sitting down to calmly eat breakfast. Then the scene cuts to three teenage girls dressed in Catholic schoolgirl uniforms at the International School in Tokyo. With typical high school cruelty, they dare each other to enter a partially burned down house. For a joke, the two evil, more popular girls decide to lock the plainer, innocent, and more fearful one inside a small chamber upstairs, where she screams and finds the door will not open. Fortunately, they all get out of the building alive, but they don’t realize that they have all contracted a curse that will doom them for the rest of the film (not to mention their subsequent acting careers).

The curse involves a young woman who was obliged to take in the evil demons of others thanks to her witchy mom. She dies in a rage, and the curse carries on, metaphysically infecting anyone who visits the house. At some point in the past, a husband killed off his family before committing suicide in the domicile, so now the cursed are haunted by a blue Japanese boy who appears in odd places like underneath a desk, or inside a locker, or under the bedclothes. Also, the original murdered mother Kayako (played by Takako Fuji) tends to pop up with lots of black hair and bugged-out eyes in the most awkward places like inside of a jacket, a developing photograph, or a phone booth.

Did I mention that the star of the previous film, Sarah Michelle Gellar, appears briefly before the aforementioned Kayako obliges her to fall off a tall building and go splat in front of her sister Aubrey (Amber Tamblyn)? I think Gellar made a wise career decision to die off quickly here. Amber Tamblyn tries to show grief before she hooks up with a Tokyo journalist Eason (Edison Chen) to go find out what caused her sister’s death. Instead of acting like a star, Amber Tamblyn comes across as a sulky clunky young woman, petulantly working her way to doom with an extra heavy purse weighing her down. As the camera follows her around listlessly, I got the distinct impression that the director of the film, Mr. Shimizu, had a nervous breakdown during the shoot, or he was strung out on drugs, or something, because The Grudge 2 has the most leaden, amateurish quality about its individual shots.

Meanwhile, over in Chicago, we get introduced to Jennifer Beal’s character’s new family where a parallel young dark-haired American boy discovers that something very creepy is going on in the apartment next door. A young woman with her face masked by a hood has started pasting newspapers all over the windows of her room where eyes appear in the night.

Cutting back and forth between Chicago and Tokyo, the film goes on in this way for an hour and 50 minutes. Instead of getting scared, I consulted my watch and doodled in my notepad. In the theater, the small teenage audience mocked what was on screen, or walked out, perhaps to go watch The Departed playing next door. Instead of developing a plot, The Grudge 2 continually rehashes the same standard horror film cliches—a black cat, a creaking noise in the night, and blue bugged out eyes appearing in weird places in the frame. If it is not the worst film I’ve seen all year, The Grudge 2 is a major contender. Perhaps director Shimizu had a stroke during filming and nobody noticed. At any rate, Entertainment Weekly predicted that The Grudge 2 may gross the most money of any national release this weekend. To think that this film will find a mass American audience--that's the scariest thought of all.

2 comments:

ARBOGAST said...

Yeah, The Grudge 2 was just goddamned dreary. I'm not a huge fan of the original movies and didn't much care for the American-Japanese coproduction but G2 was stultifying. And shouldn't horror be galvanizing? I actually failed chemistry, so I need backup here.

FilmDr said...

I agree, Arbogast. Horror should at least keep you awake. The Grudge 2 was so amateurishly shot, I could hardly pay attention to the storyline, let alone be properly scared.