I’m a huge fan of Ju-On and it’s first English remake The Grudge (2004). Both movies were formative in fostering my love for horror and scaring me senseless. So when I saw the remake trailer, I felt a sense of nostalgia on top of the impending sense of doom. Remakes usually aren’t the greatest and the January release date only made that sense of dread more palpable. On top of that, the first remake was good enough , so it felt weird to want to try and add something new again. However, that sense of trepidation gave way to slight optimism when I realized that Nicolas Pesce was directing the movie. I loved The Eyes of My Mother and felt that maybe he could deliver a moving remake of a beloved movie. After having just seen the remake, I can confirm that it’s indeed a mixed bag of emotions. The plot feels messy and stretched too thin and the scares feel repetitive and predictable. In spite of this, I found myself thoroughly enjoying some moments. The film has it’s flaws – but it also has cool ideas that I wish it had run with more.
The movie has a main plot and then 3 additional subplots all taking place at different times between 2004-2006. The primary plot follows Detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough) as she finds herself entangled in the “grudge”- a curse that kills anyone that comes into its proximity. The main issue with the movie is that the main plot is pretty boring by itself until the final few moments and a few macabre scenes in the second act. Riseborough is relegated to being an exposition scene and literally just helps Pesce cut to the other more interesting subplots. Out of the three other ones, only two are given any bearing. It’s funny because seemingly the most important subplot (The Lander family) is only touched near the end of the film. The Spencer subplot featuring John Cho and Betty Gilpin is heartfelt and had me feeling something in spite of the messy plot. The Matheson subplot (Lin Shaye and Frannkie Faison) introduces some of most horrifying thinking and I genuinely wish the film had spent most of the time here. There are some creepy ideas that are kind of toyed around with but never expanded on. Honestly, I wish the movie was just more focused. Cut out the incessant exposition and over explaining and just let the character interactions and ideas out. The movie is at its best in precisely these moments.
Acting in the movie is fine- for the most part. It honestly feels like the actors did the best with the way the plot went about so I can’t fault any of them. In spite of sparse characterization, Lin Shaye stole the scenes she was in. I loved her in all the Insiduous movies and watching her play a different role highlights just how much of a range she has. She gives a lot in this performance and made everything involving her really fun. Cho and Gilpin add the only real emotional weight to the convoluted plot. They do a great job in making the unfolding horrors more tragic and less undeserved.
There’s nothing special in terms of camera vision, but that’s mainly because most scenes are just set-ups for obvious jump scares. It’s always characters walking, then finding something, then looking away ,cue realization of impending scare, look back, then scare . It’s okay the first time but it’s lackluster with how well the scares are executed in the other Grudge movies. The lack of creativity in set-ups wasn’t something I was expecting. Thankfully, the score is engaging. It kept me at least partially invested when it came on. Especially during the last two scenes- it makes them memorable.
TLDR: All in all – The Grudge (2020) isn’t awful – but it’s definitely a bag of missed opportunities. I appreciate the way it tried to add some new twists to the original Grudge but those attempts fall flat or aren’t pushed far enough – which is a shame because I really enjoyed some of them.
Final Rating: 5.8/10. If you liked Ju-On or The Grudge I think there’s something in here for you. Yes – it’s not amazing or groundbreaking, but it’s certainly not the worst horror movie I’ve seen. The theater I went to was mostly packed and was quite engaged for a lot of the moments I responded to, so I really think some of ya’ll might enjoy portions of this.
Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!