While horror fanatics were certainly expecting scares and deeply unsettling imagery from Sony Pictures’ The Grudge panel on New York Comic Con 2019’s inaugural day, what came as more of a surprise was exactly how the cast, director and producer described the upcoming franchise film — throwing around words like “intelligent,” “character study” and “puzzle.”
The “Grudge’s curse” has endured through 12 feature films (soon to be 13), with the most recent one being in 2016 and the most recent American one in 2009. On why now was the right time to bring The Grudge back for audiences, director Nicolas Pesce spoke about the state of modern horror and how it influenced his film.
“I think something that’s really exciting that’s been happening in the past couple of years in horror, audiences are so much more welcoming of — there’s this new wave of like family drama infused,” said Pesce. “And now we have an opportunity to really lean into that deeper character stuff that audiences like so much, and we wanted to explore more of. There’s definitely a deeper human, character narrative in the movie.”
The Grudge is being released on the first week of January, typically a slot where studios drop a snackable, but ultimately disposable horror film (2018 had Insidious: The Last Key and 2017 had Underworld: Blood Wars). But the horror reimaging certainly seems to have the makings of one of the rare films to buck that trend, especially if it ends up being less The Woman in Black 2 and more Hereditary.
Producer of both 2004’s smash hit The Grudge and 2006’s less successful The Grudge 2, and no stranger to horror, Raimi is back producing the new entry and teased that the film may require audiences to do a bit of piecing it together to fully understand the film.
“I’m excited to see if the audience will rise to the challenge — I think they will — of what Nic and the group here has put together,” Raimi said. “It’s not really laid out like a simple horror film. It is a challenging puzzle for the audience to really put together and it’s something that’s not complete unless they listen to everything, make some choices about how they think things would work, and not really finished until the very end.”
He continued, “I think the audience will rise to the occasion, but it’s a very intelligent film that demands intelligence from the audience to make it work.”
However, that “intelligence” doesn’t mean that Pesce and company are toning down the gnarly visuals and squirm-inducing moments of horror. As the panelists, also including stars Andrea Riseborough (Mandy), Betty Gilpin (GLOW) and Lin Shaye (Insidious), stressed multiple times, if anything, the movie is more graphic than its predecessors.
An exclusive teaser trailer and clip were shown to the crowd; the former largely focuses on Riseborough’s Detective Muldoon, who encounters Shaye’s Faith. Faith is consumed by “the curse,” which is manifested when a person dies in a grip of rage, and acts strange with blood smeared around her mouth. When something moves around behind Muldoon, she decides to investigate the house and finds the rotting, long-deceased corpse of Faith’s husband. A quickly cut together collection of clips follows, ending on a shot of the iconic ghostly hands coming out of Jon Cho’s character’s head while he’s in the shower.
The roughly one-minute clip that the crowd was treated to featured Jacki Weaver’s character wandering over to the kitchen of Faith’s house, only to find her chopping away at something. As Weaver’s character moves in closer, she screams at the sight of what exactly Faith is chopping at — her own fingers. Beneath her on the ground, lies her husband’s dead body, with a fork stabbed in his throat.
The takeaway from The Grudge’s panel? Director Nicolas Pesce summed it up best in the following statement about the film.
“I’m excited for you guys to see how serious of a movie it is. Like definitely go out with your friends on a Friday night to see it, but it’s not like a fun, silly time! It’s a very serious movie with a lot of dark subject matter, and it’s really intense,” he said. “As much as we pulled from the old movie, I think it’s very, very, very different than what most people are expecting.”
The Grudge, which is not a reboot and instead exists in the same world as the previous series films, will hit theaters on January 3, 2020. The R-rated film also stars Demián Bichir, William Sadler, Frankie Faison and Stephanie Sy.