The Good: Moments of concept
The Bad: Lack of character, Very basic plot, Sacrifices substance for style
The Basics: Despite its near-constant moments of shocking horror images that reverse events, The Grudge is most scary for the way it portrays women as objects to be slaughtered.
The best joke I've made in recent days, which will no doubt translate quite poorly in this medium, involved watching two movies that I think were just terrible with the same person. A few days ago, a friend and I subjected ourselves to the lame disappointment Scary Movie 4 (reviewed here!). Throughout that viewing, my friend tried to fill me in on the references to The Grudge, which I had not seen. The information my friend provided did not make Scary Movie 4 any funnier. So, when we sat down and watched The Grudge this weekend, I was surprised by my friend's justification of the movie; "It's much scarier on the big screen, with an audience of screaming teenage girls." Well, I have a pretty big screen television but I've never been one to import an audience of teenage girls to improve the quality of a movie - any movie that hinges on such an esoteric device might need to be reconsidered. So, my reaction at the end of the movie was to note as dryly as possible, "That movie was ripe for parody. Someone should make a comedy out of that." Sigh. Humor sometimes does not transcend the moment.
Karen Davis, a student and home health aide, is working in Japan where she is assigned to the house of a catatonic woman whose aide has gone missing. Karen begins to care for the elderly Emma while strange things begin to happen in the house that she is working in. While Karen begins to be tormented by nightmarish images of a creepy little boy and hair growing out of the ceiling, we journey back to when Emma moved into the house with her family and they were tormented to death by a similar force. And eventually, Karen is able to witness the cause of the home's curse, but that knowledge exacts some heavy prices.
I can live with foreign films. I've no problem reading subtitles, I am open to the cultural diversity of the world and I embrace the occasional foreign film to sit down and raise my sense of living in a world larger than the United States. That said, I'm having a lot of trouble with movies that are American remakes of foreign films. They seem utterly pointless to me. Movies like Dark Water and The Grudge put American characters in situations with Japanese cultural values and superstitions and expect American audiences to both understand and accept the character's actions. This was cripplingly bad in the way Dark Water resolved itself, in The Grudge, at least we have the excuse that the action takes place in Japan.
So, where The Grudge falls completely apart is in the character aspect. We have Americans in Japan who are so un-American, or culturally sensitive to the apparent Japanese way, as to allow themselves to be slaughtered by evil without giving a fight. Please! Jennifer Williams - Emma's daughter-in-law - and Karen Davis are American women trapped in some form of Japanese cultural identification. Americans: we're the Ripleys, the Leia's, the Violet and Corkey's. We don't wait for evil to crawl over and kill us. We pick up a blaster, we arm up and go into the den of evil to blow things up and we con the enemy out of everything we need to get well off the evils of those who oppose us.
Not so in The Grudge. Yes, there are men killed, but the female characters wait around for it to happen. Evil in the universe of The Grudge could be one-legged, blind, deaf, mute, have three fingers on one hand, and emit an odor that would warn of its advance three hundred miles away and the female characters would wait patiently for it to arrive, possibly baking cookies while they waited for evil to slaughter them. In The Grudge the men hold all of the answers, the women are either cannon fodder or simply witnesses.
That latter point is what keeps The Grudge from being at all entertaining and is the true dump of the movie. The Grudge focuses, more or less, on Karen Davis and the truth is Karen does not DO much in The Grudge. She walks around, she witnesses. She does not cause nor thwart evil. She simply learns what it is. The process of the movie is simply Karen having the truth slowly revealed to her about what happened in the house.
The thing is, the men already know. One of the two inspectors mentions what was found in the house three years prior. Wow, there's a cultural difference that makes one wonder why The Grudge had any popularity in the U.S.; the men know that evil is in the house and it's pretty unrelenting to destroy those who come in contact with it, but they let more people move into the house. If The Grudge were an American movie, the evil would have been thwarted by Karen, the house would have been utterly destroyed so as not to perpetuate the evil and any sequel would involve suing every man who knew about it for criminal negligence.
Karen Davis is played by Sarah Michelle Gellar and it's tragic to watch the star play such a bland role. Gellar was never the most intriguing member of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer ensemble (ironically), but at least she was given a decent character she could play that would be dynamic. Karen Davis is bland and Gellar plays her with big, open eyes and almost slack-jawed shock throughout the entire movie. Perhaps Gellar did not understand the script or the lines being delivered to her character, but Karen is a terribly insulting role for any strong woman (for example, her boss at the agency demeaningly tells her "You're ready for it" before sending her to work at the house).
At least with the brutality and indifference we see throughout this movie directed at women we can understand why a theater of teenage girls would be screaming.
For other works with Sarah Michelle Gellar, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Buffy The Vampire Slayer
For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the films I have reviewed!
© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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