The box office leader in last year's resurgence of horror movies, "The Grudge" scared up an estimated $110 million. Not bad for a film that, according to the Internet Movie Database, only cost $10 million. The film is, like "The Ring", based upon a Japanese horror picture - in this case, Takashi Shimizu's "Ju On". I've never seen the original version, but for this time around, the picture retains the same director and also is set in Tokyo.
"The Grudge" stars Sarah Michelle Gellar as Karen, a care provider living in Tokyo with her boyfriend, Doug (Jason Behr). She gets a new gig taking care of Emma (Grace Zabriskie), who has become a shut-in over the years, due to the fact that the previous caretaker was grabbed by some sort of presence when she went to investigate a noise.
Once there, Karen begins to discover that something terrible happened in the house, and the curse that is attached to the place where it happened will result in something terrible happening to anyone who visits. I'm attempting to come up with more regarding the plot of the film, but that's essentially the long and short of the thing. Although Gellar was the focus of the promotional campaign, the movie bounces back-and-forth between a series of characters involved in the mystery, such as a professor (Bill Pullman) who takes a leap off his balcony without any explanation or warning in the opening scene.
"The Grudge" isn't especially interested in plot and character development, as it focuses its energy much more intensely on creating a series of scares and creepy moments. While the lack of a plot does make the film less compelling than "The Ring" (where the mystery of the plot gave that film a real urgency), director Takashi Shimizu does at least offer some enjoyably slick chills. I didn't find anything particularly scary about the picture (there are some nicely done jump scares, although that's essentially what they are - "boo!" moments. There's also a few creepy moments that are cut away from too abruptly), but it did maintain a pretty strong atmosphere, enough to give some goosebumps.
The performances are fairly good. The movie is subdued and rather moody, but Gellar's underplaying doesn't entirely work - the performance seems a bit stiff. Clea Duvall is fine in a brief role, as are Bill Pullman and others. Overall, this is pretty decent, atmospheric horror, but there's not quite enough holding it together. It's a good rental, but I enjoyed "The Ring" more. A sequel to "The Grudge" is already in the works, and the ending of this edition certainly leaves it quite open to more.
VIDEO: "The Grudge" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen by Columbia/Tristar. The transfer is generally pleasing, but a few moderate concerns do present themselves, and take an otherwise fine presentation down a few notches. Sharpness and detail are certainly respectable, as the picture appeared consistently crisp and well-defined, save for a few wide shots. Small object detail, however, could have been better.
The biggest issue with the transfer is edge enhancement. While not present constantly, edge enhancement is definitely visible when it does show up and is mildly intrusive and distracting. Some minor shimmering was also spotted during a couple of scenes. No pixelation was present, nor were any instances of wear on the print used. Mild-to-moderate grain was visible at times, but that could also be an intentional element of the cinematography.
The film has a rather flat, subdued color palette that seems to have been transfered accurately to DVD. Flesh tones looked natural and accurate. Overall, a satisfactory presentation.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. I was expecting somewhat more from the film's soundtrack. Although the surrounds do kick in quite superbly during a few of the shock sequences, the rear speakers are otherwise not put to a whole lot of use, and what use they do get is pretty standard - some light ambience and reinforcement of the score. Audio quality was perfectly fine, as dialogue, music and sound effects seemed crisp and well-recorded. There was also a pretty solid amount of bass with some of the sound effects.
EXTRAS: Producer Ted Raimi, producer Rob Talpert, actress Sarah Michelle Gellar, actress Clea Duvall, producer Sam Raimi, actor Jason Behr and screenwriter Stephen Susco offer an audio commentary. The track is essentially a little party for those involved - recorded shortly after the movie's release, the atmosphere is light and jokey. Although we do learn more about the film's production throughout this track, there's also a lot of small talk, goofing around and chatter. May be fun for fans.
"A Powerful Rage" is the disc's "making of" documentary. Comprised of 5 pieces, the whole runs about 47 minutes. It includes: "The Birth of The Grudge", "Myth of the Ju-On", "Culture Shock: American Cast in Japan", "Designing the Grudge House", "A New Direction: Understanding Takashi Shimizu".
"Under the Skin" is a 12-minute documentary that takes a medical look at the physical response due to watching scary flicks. Finally, the disc wraps up with a series of previews for Columbia/Tristar titles: "The Grudge", "Forgotten", "Guess Who?", "Anacondas", "Boogeyman", "Riding Giants", "Spider-Man 2","Man of the House" and "Mirrormask".
Final Thoughts: "The Grudge" offered some solid atmosphere and a handful of good chills, but there wasn't enough plot and character to always keep me as involved as I'd like to have been. Columbia/Tristar's DVD edition offers pretty good audio quality and fine video quality, along with a nice helping of supplements. A recommendation for fans, although others may want to try a rental first.