If You See ‘The Grudge,” Do it Grudgingly
If you’ve never seen a ghost throw a baseball game’s first pitch while being cheered on by a fox dressed like a schoolgirl, then the best place to watch the new reboot/sidequel/fawning whatever of The Grudge is at an Alamo Drafthouse. They curated fun stuff like prank videos of ghost child Toshio startling people and a Thriller-style, Grudge-themed music video. Nothing in this new movie is quite as enjoyable.
THE GRUDGE ★ (1/5 stars)
Directed by: Nicolas Pesce
Written by: Nicolas Pesce
Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Demian Bechir, John Cho, Betty Gilpin, Jacki Weaver, Lin Shaye, Frankie Faison
Running time: 93 min
Spooked by a spooky house in spooky 2004 Tokyo, Nurse Fiona Landers (Tara Westwood) desperately scrambles back to Cross Rivers, Pennsylvania. Yikes! Extreme measures! If you haven’t Grudged before, the storylines and timelines now fracture and overlap. Why? It’s a Grudge tradition!
Our protagonist is a newly widowed, single mom named Detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough). Nice. She and her partner (Demain Bechir), who I’m gonna call Smokey because cigarettes are his sole activity and entire personality, investigate a bizarre car wreck. The “assisted suicide broad” (Jacki Weaver) decomposing in the driver’s seat worked at a local “haunted” murder house. Smokey warns Muldoon to steer clear of the house but she’s just too damn compelled, like all those people currently unable to skip seeing Cats.
In the Grudge-iverse, this means Muldoon is fucked. The titular grudge is born when someone dies or murders or die-murders in the grip of an extreme rage. The curse attaches itself to anyone who enters the murder-death-rage space. How do I know this? After the opening Tokyo scene, they literally show the explanation onscreen. If you miss it because you’re buying Sno Caps, don’t worry. An insane cop (William Sadler) will explain it again later. Anyway, Muldoon enters haunted house and the curse latches onto her. She figures out her curse while uncovering the grisly ends of other cursed people, including the nurse’s family, a cop, some hapless, pretty, fucked realtors (John Cho and Betty Gilpin), an aging couple (Lin Shaye and Frankie Faison) who kinda like their ghost demon roomies, and the euthanasia expert unlucky enough to meet that last couple.
There are problems. Supposedly interlocked vignettes, The Grudge only develops Muldoon’s story. Her story hardly pays any attention to her son, unlike the threatened family in the tense horror The Conjuring. The curse itself doesn’t make much sense. Is it an airborne toxic event? Does it curse every place an infected person walks in or only murder-death spaces? Can a blood test detect its presence? It’s all a bunch of thinly sketched guff, so here’s a few really weird touches that I truly enjoyed:
–Smokey was the lead investigator on a family murder-suicide but never entered the house where it happened?! Surely, the Cross Rivers PD has some regulations against this type of investigative half-assery.
–Most of the cars are vintage, boxy 1980s Chevys with heavily upholstered seats. (Ew.) Cho and Gilpin have a huge VCR, cabinet-style television, and digital clock of roughly 1983 vintage. It’s 2006 or 2007. The period design is all over the place, and feels influenced by Mindhunter.
–John Cho jumps into the flimsiest closet ever created to hide from a ghost. It’s hilarious.
The Grudge series needs a proper revamp that rids it of its worst tendencies. There’s an opportunity to explore this curse as a disease with legitimately scary stakes, but this movie is mostly more of the same. It drags out tried and true tropes like finding unexpected fingers on your scalp, buzzing fly sounds, and moist ghosts with the slack-jawed, deliberate palsy of a Billie Eilish video extra. Why are the ghosts so damn moist? At this point, The Grudge is a cosplay of itself that’s less fun than when its ghosts show up at a baseball game.