Courtesy of Sony
Call it a remake of a remake.
Back in the day - I guess I’m referring to early 2000s as “back in the day” - Hollywood executives ate up Japanese horror (J-Horror, I think was the phrase) with the American remakes of “The Ring” and its subsequent sequels and “The Grudge” in 2004, starring Sarah Michelle Geller. Speaking for myself, both movies quite literally terrified me. The idea of a demonic ghost stepping foot in my living room via the TV or a spirit with the ability to latch onto my soul were, and still are terrifying. There was also a grungy, B-movie level of appreciation that went into those films, and when you see indie auteur Nicolas Pesce attached to a reboot of “The Grudge” you hope for the best.
“The Grudge” - the first official movie release of 2020 - joins the ranks of “The Devil Inside,” “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” and “Escape Room” as lower tier January offerings dumped at the start of the year to basically guarantee you’ll forget its existence. Pesce, the latest indie filmmaker promoted to a studio picture, tries to put a unique spin on “The Grudge” which, retroactively, keeps the same narrative beats as its predecessor. This time, the film tries to incorporate a topsy-turvy timeline of events that are hard to keep up with. It starts in 2004 when caregiver Fiona (Tara Westwood) brings home a curse to her family from a grudge house in Tokyo. Then there’s Faith (Lin Shaye of “Insidious” fame) playing opposite her husband (Frankie Faison), and a lovely real estate couple in 2006 (John Cho and Betty Gilpin) who all find themselves touched by the ghostly presence at the house on 44 Reyburn Drive.
This prompts two detectives (Andrea Riseborough and Demian Bichir) who try to investigate why random bodies are turning up inside or around the residence. What follows is a series of blood soaked squeals and unnecessary R rated carnage (before it was PG13) that leads down a dark and convoluted rabbit hole made up of recycled “The Conjuring” bits. You can see what Pesce is trying to accomplish: creating a different feeling, tonally, than the 2004 remake. But you have to remember “The Grudge” was a reboot that literally nobody was asking for, and the minor thrills that exist (including the final shot which hints at Pesce's indie roots) are few and far between. Sometimes less is more and the 2004 entry took a simplistic approach to the material and mostly succeeded. Plus, no matter how fresh the shifting timelines feel, it still doesn’t hide the predictable horror movie logic of searching mucky bathtubs for no other reason than to investigate the weird sound. Then again, the irony about “The Grudge” is how its main narrative revolves around a spirit who can’t seem to let go of the past, and I chuckle because apparently Sony can’t either.