The Grudge, 2020.
Directed by Nicolas Pesce.
Starring Andrea Riseborough, Demián Bichir, John Cho, Lin Shaye, Jacki Weaver, Betty Gilpin, William Sadler, Frankie Faison, Nancy Sorel, Tara Westwood, and Joel Garland.
A house is cursed by a vengeful ghost that dooms those who enter it with a violent death.
Within the first 10 minutes of The Grudge (the fourth film in the franchise and second remake), two decomposed bodies are uncovered. Admittedly, the effects are appropriately grotesque and gnarly to look at, which is a feeling that fades away about a minute later realizing that this small-town Pennsylvania police department falls somewhere between inept and incompetent at their jobs. How do rotting corpses go undiscovered for months on end? Don’t ask, but it’s also not the most preposterous aspect.
Continuing along with the spirit of The Grudge, there is a location/home that is just as much integral to the plot as are its numerous inhabitants, spread across three different parallel timelines. The place is 44 Reyburn Drive and the home belongs to the Landers family, and it’s not long before a tragedy befalls them. Fiona Landers (Tara Westwood) is working abroad over in Tokyo as we see her make a distressing phone call about encountering what she believes to be evil spirits and how she can no longer perform her duties. Upon swiftly returning to her husband and young daughter, she becomes possessed and murders her loved ones (shown offscreen).
Flash forward a few years later when everything surrounding the disturbance seems to be wrapped up, only for the aforementioned dead bodies to come to light. At the center of this mystery is Andrea Riseborough’s Detective Muldoon, a widowed mother juggling her child and an increasingly growing fascination with the sick history of the Landers home. Talking to her superior Goodman (Demián Bichir) only fuels that curiosity, even if his partner was driven to obsession and violent madness at the hands of demonic incidents and curiosity, so much so that he shot a hole in his own face (another design that is unsettlingly executed with some quite good makeup effects).
As she carries out investigative research on various owners of the home, The Grudge hops around all over the early 2000s to depict what these evil entities are capable of, but it’s all under the guise of a mystery with nothing necessarily compelling to solve or dig deeper into. Even the characters themselves never develop into anything more than objects for director Nicolas Pesce (the Piercing filmmaker also serves as a writer reworking the original draft from Jeff Buhler, who himself is obviously drawing influence from Takashi Shimizu) to slowly push forward into some nasty set pieces.
Most interesting of these people are the Spencers played by John Cho and Betty Gilpin, the former of which is trying to handover real estate paperwork to the folks currently residing in the Landers home. However, what was once a happy environment now contains a supernatural presence bound by anger and hate (there is some opening text that explains what exactly the titular grudge is for those unaware about the concept), meaning everyone that steps inside the home come away with a cursed and darker version of their own personality. The couple also happens to be in the early stages of having tough conversations regarding the fact that their unborn child might come into the world with challenging diseases. Maybe Nicolas Pesce is also most invested into this story thread, as of everything here, it’s the only section (due to the constantly shifting timelines, The Grudge often feels like a collection of short stories following people haunted by this house) that climaxes with a dark event that is also mildly emotionally affecting for how the rest of society could interpret what has happened. Of course, we don’t get any of that, which is a shame. There’s a much better movie to be found and fleshed out within everything the Spencers are going through.
Elsewhere, William Matheson (Frankie Faison) has hired Jacki Weaver’s Lorna to help perform an assisted suicide on his mentally gone wife Faith (genre favorite Lin Shaye who is one of the film’s bright spots, seemingly enjoying the opportunity to play crazy). None of it goes anywhere, which makes the awkward scene about finding optimism from the existence of ghosts all the more pointless until Nicolas Pesce humorously cuts away to something eerier, as if he’s reminding us nothing positive is going to come from this perpetual cycle of torment.
Individual sequences of The Grudge are occasionally decent, but the film lacks forward momentum. It never stops oscillating between mildly interesting and flat-out boring, which is not helped by the fact that the story just keeps cutting to different characters without ever adding any semblance of depth to them. Nicolas Pesce is admirably restrained with the jump scares (when they are present, they thankfully are not usually accompanied by loud noises), and the final 15 minutes have quite a few striking images set to some aggressive musical compositions from The Newton Brothers. The impressive cast assembled is all fine and each seems to be doing something different that simultaneously plays to their acting strengths while also maintaining a singular tone, but they can’t do much with a mystery that has nothing worthwhile to solve. Even the identity of the decomposed bodies is made obvious before the first act is up. The Grudge itself is a decomposed IP that never needed another remake.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com