Considering Takashi Shimizu’s original Ju-on/The Grudge (2002) was such a key, chilling addition to the late 90s/noughties J-horror wave, it was inevitable for a franchise to follow and flourish. But other than Shimizu’s original film and its decent, 2004 Sam Raimi produced US remake (also directed by Shimizu), Ju-on’s sequels were irrefutably shoddy.
A clunky Japanese Ju-on/ Ringu spin-off, Sadako vs. Kayako arrived in 2016, and now, in what seems like no time since the previous US Grudge series ended (with The Grudge 3 in 2009), Sony have unravelled another Raimi produced rejig; with this mildewed, ill-managed (s)equal from writer/director Nicolas Pesce (Piercing, The Eyes of My Mother).
The scattershot tale starts in Tokyo 2004 when carer Fiona Landers (Tara Westwood) contracts the Kayako curse in Nerima then takes it home to Clear River, Pennsylvania. We reconvene in 2006 where the grieving Detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough) connects a corpse found in a forest with the recent mass murder of the local Landers family. Muldoon questions terminally ill dementia sufferer Faith Matheson (Lin Shaye) and then makes a terrifying discovery which leads her investigation into a twitchy CG ghost laden fracas.
Pesce’s script flits from 2004-06 and back again, adopting the non-chronological nature of the original Ju-on, but retains the crushing tedium that cursed its sequels. Edgy atmospheres are conjured via musty, dim-lit settings, scything the icy vibes of earlier Grudges, but the frights are passé and predictable. Slovenly crafted scares adhere to obsolete textbook techniques; instigated by intense sound blasts instead of dexterous directing/editing, and are then hindered further by shiftily, digitally rendered spectres.
What Pesce has done that may be different for the Grudge series, isn’t for ghost/haunted house films per se, as some of the defining franchise characteristics are discarded, making his film feel like just another tepid subgenre re-tread, disconnected from Shimizu’s original.
Supporting characters in, what seem like, sub-plots, due to the lack of cohesion/chronology, coalesce feebly as the story shimmies back and forth like a Flux capacitor freak-out. Darting to the past to introduce Letting Agent Peter Spencer (John Cho) and his pregnant wife Nina (Betty Gilpin), then returning to the present (still the past) where Assisted Suicide Consultant, or “Exit Guide”, Lorna Moody (Jacki Weaver) first meets the Mathesons.
Pesce’s unsettling air would have worked wonders in a more succinct, linear tale with a set protagonist, refined arcs and less synthetic scares. Compelling cogs and concepts are instead inelegantly jimmied into sub-plots and back drops or clang with the ferocity of a Hadron collider malfunction, making The Grudge (2020) tinker on ridiculous, some hammy acting and trite dialogue don’t help, but instead just wallows in banal purgatory where malign flaws make it mostly trying and insipid.