A kinda-sorta remake of his own film, 2003's Ju-On: The Grudge, itself a kinda-sorta remake of his earlier 2000 straight to video Ju-On: The Curse, Takashi Shizumi's 2004 big budget Hollywood version of the story may lack some of the subtlety of its Japanese predecessor but it's still a surprisingly decent effort - one that probably shouldn't have worked, but did anyway.
Sarah Michelle Geller plays an American exchange student named Karen living in Tokyo where she is studying to be a social worker. She winds up trying to help out an older woman named Emma Williams (Grace Zabriskie) who is not in the best of shape. She heads on over to Emma's house and, upon entering, is shocked to see Emma lying in an almost trance like state, paralyzed by fear. The house in complete shambles, Karen tries to help the poor woman when she begins to hear some unearthly noises coming from the upstairs part of the seemingly perfectly normal home. She heads up the stairs to see what the commotion is and comes face to face with the angry spirit that has cursed the home since a murder took place there some years ago.
Karen's strange discovery seems to kick start a rash of investigations into the house, almost all of which lead to another dead body as the curse passes from one victim to another. With some help from Emma's son Doug (Jason Behr) and daughter (Clea DuVall), Karen soon realizes that she's quite likely the only one who can put this curse to rest, and she'd better figure out how to do that quickly, or she'll wind up the next victim.
A fairly decent remake of the earlier efforts, The Grudge falters in a few spots, particularly when the spirits actually manifest. The original film didn't rely on CGI like this one does and it played these scenes in a more subtle manner, relying on atmosphere rather than loud musical cues and jump scares. That said, a well timed jump scare isn't a bad thing, even if they tend to lack the lasting impact of a more cerebral horror set piece, and this picture if full of them. The pacing might be a little languid at times and the plot may jump around too much for its own good, but the last twenty minutes of the picture are surprisingly intense and very well handled.
Despite a few decent names in the credits, the performances here aren't really anything to write home about. Nobody is bad at all, but neither does anyone stand out (though it is fun to see Bill Pullman pop up in a brief cameo part). The performances are all certainly adequate, they're just unremarkable. Where the film succeeds, however, is in Shizumi's ability to effectively build tension. The picture starts off strong, then calms down to build its plot and then ramps it all up for a strong finish. We know where it's all heading, but the impending sense of dread that permeates the later part of the movie keeps us interested and makes the movie work.
The cinematography and camerawork is slick, if a little too clinical feeling in spots. There are parts of the picture that have the same sort of coldness to them as an early Cronenberg effort, though this film was obviously more inspired by Shizumi's own early films and the likes of Hideo Nakata and other more recent Japanese horror filmmakers. Not a bad thing at all, mind you, though some viewers might not adapt so easily to the distinctly non-American pacing and style. Ultimately, if you've seen the original film, you'll know exactly what to expect and the addition of the American cast to the storyline doesn't really hurt things like you might expect it to. While this was, in many ways, a completely unnecessary remake, judged on its own merits, it does work quite well.
Sony has included both the PG-13 rated theatrical cut of the film and the five minute longer unrated director's cut on this Blu-ray release. The differences are that the unrated cut adds a slight bit more to the back story and extends some of the more horrific sequences a little bit. The basics of the story remain the same, however the unrated cut is a slightly stronger take on that story.
The Grudge looks quite good in this 1080p AVC encoded 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The film was shot with a fairly subdued color palette giving the film a rather 'cool' look for most of its running time and that look is preserved here on this Blu-ray disc. Skin tones look quite good and detail is strong throughout the duration of the film. There looks to be a little bit of DVNR applied in some scenes giving skin a slightly waxy tone, but aside from that there isn't much to complain about. Black levels stay strong and deep and the film has good shadow detail (particularly important in a few key scenes). There aren't any problems with compression artifacts or shimmering to note and for the most part the movie transfers to Blu-ray quite nicely.
The English language Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track is a very noticeable improvement over the standard definition release in pretty much every way possible. Bass is much stronger and there's a lot more detail evident in the surround channels. Dialogue is crystal clear and there are no problems to report with hiss or distortion at all. The levels are well balanced even if some of the 'jump scare' scenes are more powerful than you might expect them to be, but the movie has always sounded like that. A French language Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track is also included, as are English, English SDH and French subtitles.
Available over the theatrical cut of the film are two commentary tracks, the first of which features Sam Raim, Ted Raimi, Rob Tapert, Sarah Michell Geller, KaDee Strickland, Clea Duvall, Jason Burh and Stephen Susco. This is a pretty active track that covers the production from the behind the camera perspective and the in front of the camera perspective. The track doesn't get too in-depth, instead it stays fairly light and offers up some scene specific trivia as the movie plays out. They tell a few interesting stories, particularly when it comes to Japanese/American relations and cultural differences experience on set, though and there's a nice sense of humor to the group talk that is a little infectious. The second commentary features director Takashi Shimizu, producer Taka Ichese and actress Takako Fuji. Spoken in Japanese and presented with English subtitles, this track is a bit more subdued and a fair bit more technical than the more jovial discussion from their American counterparts but no less interesting. They talk about how this project came to be, about the earlier films in the series, and what it was like working with the Americans on the picture. Between the two tracks, you definitely get a good understanding of what went into getting this project finished.
From there we move on to the featurettes starting with A Powerful Rage: Behind The Grudge which is a decent five part documentary that covers the making of the film. At over forty-five minutes in length, the five chapters cover the origins of the film and how it came to be remade, what it was like for the Americans to work in Japan, the production work that went into designing the house that is featured in the film, and last but not least, the technique and style of Takashi Shimizu. It's a pretty extensive piece that features some good behind the scenes bits and fairly interesting interview bits in addition to the standard clips that you expect in behind the scenes segments. Under The Skin is a twelve minute piece that explores the reality behind the medical science used in the film to explain what happens to people when they get scared as they do in this film. It's quite interesting and worth a watch, as is The 'Grudge' House: An Insider's Tour which gives us a look at the most famous set used in the film and enlightens us as to what went into creating it. Sarah Michelle Geller and KaDee Strickland each provide some video diary entries where they talk about their experiences on set as they were living them, while Sights And Sounds: The Storyboard Art Of Takashi Shimizu takes a look at the director's pre-production planning style and shows us how he goes about creating some of the more memorable set pieces we see in the movie.
A dozen deleted scenes are also included on the disc, a few of which actually serve to help the plot a bit and might have been better off left in the picture. Two Ju-on short films brings things to a close nicely. Titled 4444444444 and In A Corner respectively, these are creepy little shorts that fit in with the feature quite nicely and are definitely worth checking out. Shimizu made these shorts, and they're very definitely in the same vein as the other Ju-on movies. Rounding out the extra features are a still gallery of production art, Animated menus and chapter stops are included and the disc is Blu-ray Live enabled. All of the extra features are presented in standard definition.
While hardly essential viewing, Takashi Shimizu's remake of his own The Grudge has enough going for it that it is worth a watch and the Blu-ray release from Sony looks good, sounds even better, and features a nice slew of interesting supplemental material. Recommended for fans of the film, a strong rental for everyone else.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.