[REVIEW] The Grudge (2004)

Updated: Feb 7


This may be one of the most iconic PG-13 horror films of all-time. Arguably, one of the greatest horror films. The early to mid 1900s introduced us to great monster films. The 1960s going into the 1970s brought about interesting takes on serial killers with some of the most notorious slasher films of today. This trend continued for well into the 1990s, but the 2000s, while certainly not introducing the sub-genre, really capitalized on the supernatural. Growing up as an elementary schooler during this time, I personally am exhausted of ghosts, possessions, and levitating objects; however, The Grudge is a film I can watch over and over again. It has no intentions of pacing itself naturally, but thrusts you into the conflict immediately leaving you disturbed well after it's epic conclusion.

A masterpiece like The Grudge holds no bounds on the film industry, but make no mistake, your looking at another remake. The original Japanese film, Ju-On: The Grudge, released just two years earlier, is written and directed by Takashi Shimizu. Unlike Ringu where there was a strong plot narrative and slow draw to the overwhelmingly climactic last twelve minutes, Ju-On has the intentions of taking you on Ringu's last twelve minutes for the entire film. While the Ju-On series was gaining more of a cult following in Japan, Shimizu decided to create an American perspective on the story with the Grudge.

Nevertheless, this remake makes no attempt on dishonoring the original or interrupt the narrative because this film is written and directed by the same original artist. If you're like me and have been avalanched by the same ghost movies every year, join me in discussing The Grudge, a paranormal gem.



THE TRAILER


This trailer is terrifying! If you saw this movie and left upset because you didn't know what you were getting yourself into then you did not watch the trailer. We're immediately introduced to what looks like a very busy Tokyo, Japan where many residents and tourists alike roam the streets. "When someone dies in the grip of a powerful rage" appears on screen followed by a rapid sequences of screaming, yelling, flashing lights, and horrifying faces flood the visual and then... "a curse is left behind."

Sarah Michelle Gellar shows up telling us that the whole time she was in 'that' house that she felt like something was wrong. Very similar flashing sequences followed by another card stating "it never forgives". A door slams. Sarah is seen going up an elevator with a windowed door. As the elevator goes up one flight after another, a nude ghost boy stands there unnoticed. As she continues up he peers his face to the window, but only we, the audience, have noticed - "it never forgets".

Sarah passes by a mirror where a ghost-like reflection is in her place. A swift showing of what appears to be the same girl crawling down a flight of stairs unnaturally. Finally, as Sarah is taking a shower (its a PG-13 movie don't worry) she washes her hair as a gray dead hand appears from the back of her head concluding with the title card. "Sarah Michelle Gellar THE GRUDGE"

What a brief and to the point trailer this is. The motives are so clear that there will be a curse that's overtaken this story and Sarah will have to conquer it head on (pun intended). The trailer is only one minute and twenty seconds, but it is one of the most terrifying trailers of its time and it still holds its own in 2022. Those flashing sequences made me recognize how hard and how fast my heart was pounding for that very long minute and a half. If you're interested in making a film or how a film is marketed or produced, I would advise you watch this trailer.


****SPOILERS AHEAD****


THE PLOT

"When someone dies in the grips of a powerful rage... A curse is born", the first text card reads. "The curse gathers in that place of death. Those who encounter it will be consumed by its fury." An American man, Peter, looks over a balcony as a young woman in the bed behind him awakes. She mentions that he's up early as he leaps from the balcony to his death. She begrudgingly (another pun intended) approaches the edge of the balcony to observe peter on the ground beneath her, with broken legs, dead.

Yoko, a young Japanese woman, rides her bike to Emma's house, an older woman she cares for. Emma doesn't seem to speak. Yoko goes on carrying for Emma's home. As she traverses up the stairs, disturbed, she slowly and carefully searches the house. Creaks and moans echo above her leading her to the attic steps. She uses a cigarette lighter to illuminate the space. She slowly turns to see the face of an onryō lunge at her. She screams in terror as she gets sucked up into the attic.

Karen, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, wakes up to her boyfriend Doug hastily getting ready. Karen asks him to stay as Doug informs her that he is running late. She reminds him to check his watch as she adjusted the nightstand alarm clock an hour fast to account for his inadequacy to be prompt.

They later take a walk to their respective duties for the day as they pass by locals who are practicing a "Buddhist ritual" where the incense smoke carries their prayers to the spirits of their ancestors. Karen enters the care center she works at for school credit. Alex, Karen's boss, approaches her with an urgent request to tend to Emma as Yoko didn't show up for work today... Karen is concerned if she is ready to take on a case and Alex assures her that she is.

Upon entry the home is littered with trash and food while Emma is banging on her bedroom door as she has rolled out of bed. Karen begins to care for the place and finds a journal, a cat, and a young, injured boy inside of a closet taped on the outside. She calls for Alex to get there as soon as he can. As she waits, she thumbs through the journal to find a picture of Peter inside. Karen goes to speak with the boy who introduces himself as Toshio. Karen goes back to check on Emma when she hears the elderly woman speaking to someone in her room. She puts her back to bed as a feminine shadowy figure appears over them from the opposing corner of the room.

We flash back to a scene where Emma seems more... lucid. Her son and daughter, Matthew and Susan, join her in touring the house alongside two realtors. Emma receives a sense of unease about the house. One of the Japanese realtors, Suzuki-san, enters a bathroom where he spots a pool of still dirty water in the bathtub. He reaches in to pull the drain when a ghost boy reaches up and grabs his farms. Suzuki falls back in fright to notice his hand holds locks of hair. Matthew decides he will take the house alongside his wife Jennifer and mother Emma. Jennifer isn't assimilating to the culture of Japan well and misses the states. Matthew encourages her to give it a chance for his job's sake and she accepts.

While napping a scurry of feet whiz by Jennifer making a mess of food and waste in the process. As she investigates up the stairs, she spots a black cat meowing at her. A pair of hands reach out to whisk the feline away. Matthew arrives home later and finds Jennifer paralyzed with fear staring at the ceiling. The ghost boy jumps from the side of the bed hissing like a cat. Jennifer sits up with a roar and then dies. Matthew backs up to a closet where the boy sits above him. He attacks and kills him.

Back in present time, Alex enters the home to find Emma dead and Karen staring up into the ceiling where the shadowy figure originated. The police arrive on scene to ask Alex some questions where they ask if he knows Matthew, which he does from registering Emma at the care center. The investigators reveal that Matthew hasn't shown up to work and is therefore missing. Alex mentions that Emma's original caretaker, Yoko, is missing and hasn't shown up to work either. The investigators work their way to the attic to find the bodies of Matthew and Jennifer as well as the lower half of someone's jaw.

Just before Susan leaves her workplace, unaware of recent events, she tries to call Matthew to check on their mother. Of course, he doesn't answer. On her way out, she heads down the stairs where the woman grudge is crawling up. She makes a narrowing escape and pleads with security for help. She waits where she finds security as she monitors the cameras. A ghost figure emerges from the ground and walks towards the camera. She scurries out of the building into what looks like her apartment.

While going up the elevator, the grudge boy stands at each flight window glaring at Susan unnoticed. Her phone rings and she reluctantly does answer to hear Matthew on the other line. With relief, she welcomes him up to her apartment. The door bell immediately rings. Matthew stands through the peep hole. She opens the door and there is no one there. The phone in her hand makes that classic moaning sound. She sprints back into bed to hide under the sheets where the grudge girl waits. Susan disappears under the sheets.



The investigator meets with Karen to discuss what each of them knows. They're interrupted by a fellow investigator with further information about Susan's apartment. They obviously couldn't find her. They plan to check her work surveillance.

Karen hikes to Doug's place of work because she didn't want to be alone. They both take the bus home and where the grudge girl appears in the window reflection. A brief PG shower scene takes place. Karen is washing her hair when a hand submerges from the back of her head.

Alex is leaving the care center offices when Yoko enters in, head down, without saying a word. She turns towards him -- missing the lower half of her jaw.

Karen embarks on further research online to get more information on the house while the investigators watch the surveillance footage revealing to them what Susan saw on camera earlier. Karen stumbles upon information of Peter's suicide so she walks to his apartment to speak with the woman he was with, Maria. She shows Karen photos of them together. The same Japanese woman is in the background of every photo.

Another flashback takes place to Peter receiving anonymous love letters. He begins home, but senses something lurking and watching him. He finds Toshio outside bruised, cut, and beaten. He takes him inside the home in which he found him. Inside he finds that the house is vandalized and no one is there. Peter peaks through the window as the boy in the background hisses in the background.

Once more, in present time, Detective Nakagawa meets with Karen to tell the truth about what happened in that house -- a mother and son dead, and their father missing. Nakagawa explains grudges to Karen and the present danger of having been in that house. Nakagawa, also at risk, makes way to the house with gasoline to burn it. He finds Toshio drowning in the tub. He rushes to him but is instead drowned by an unknown man behind him.

Karen goes home to hear a voicemail from Doug saying he can't find her, so he is going to check the house. She takes off, on foot, to Doug's rescue. On arrival she stands before Peter like an out of body experience in the flashback we observed prior. We learn that Peter was an obsession of Kayako, Toshio's mother. All this information was kept in a journal that her husband found. In a blind rage, he killed his wife, drowned his son and then hung himself.

Karen returns to reality to where the mirror reflection scene from the trailer happens. Doug comes crawling to her feet as grudge Kayako comes crawling downstairs, bloody and groaning. She literally scares Doug to death and Karen knocks over a can of gasoline and drops a lighter to burn the house down.

A flash of light floods the screen and Karen appears to be in a hospital once again, in scrubs, and what looks to identifying Doug's body in an autopsy. She begins to pull back the sheet, but a ghost hand falls from beneath it, and Kayako stands directly behind her. Karen turns as Kayako's eyes glare into the camera.


THOUGHTS ON THE FILM


This movie is excellent with very few flaws. I will address those flaws, but we have to celebrate its' victories. At this point, being the early 2000s, I don't think 'J-horror' has really come to stay here in the states, but if this film did to you what it did to me than this was the start of Japanese influence in screams, scares, and kills. In fact, I would venture to say that without The Grudge we wouldn't have many of the horror developments we have today.

I enjoy the opening explanation of how a grudge comes to be. Its too often these paranormal films have a ghost that exists because... it does... But we know that Kayako and Toshio are the result of a death by "the grips of a powerful rage." If you saw the trailer, than you sat expecting answers to these "curses" that terrorize these families. The Grudge delivers.

Peters' suicide is insane considering its the first death of the movie. Watching him watch the city puts me in wonder, "What's the deal with this guy? Is he just hungover? In deep thought?" But before you can come to any conclusion, he's jumped. That's it. I'm hooked.

Yoko is the first death by grudge, and its probably the most terrifying moment of the movie for me. That slow turn with the lighter gradually illuminating Kayako's face and that eerie moan... It happens too suddenly and to see her elevated with her feet flailing below her. This is Shimizu's way of letting us know we need to buckle up because this is going to be a wild ride.

The flashback scenes are not hard to follow at all. There's very clear lighting changes or visual cues to assimilate you into the past or present time. For example, Emma is much more alert and seemingly aware of her surroundings during the first flashback, cueing us that this was the Emma the family use to know. In Peter's flashback scene the set tends to have warm lighting almost as if its natural as opposed to the shadows that flood the house in present time. This can be hard to do in the fashion that its been done so I have to give credit where it is due. Well done here.

Who doesn't love Sarah Michelle Gellar? Though, to tell you the truth I'm not attached to her character or Doug. I'm not sure if the movie really wants you to connect with them as much as it wants you to join her on this journey on investigating what in the world is going on here. So, their introductory scene just didn't cut it for me. I'm not even sure if it gives us anything else other than a make out scene, which to me, is a very cheap way to draw a male audience.

I find the "Buddhist ritual" scene to be very funny considering Buddhists don't believe in everlasting spirits. I just enjoy little errors like this because you would literally have to just make something up about Buddhism to write this part of the script. I don't blame Shimizu for this as Stephen Susco wrote the screenplay and probably squeezed this one in there.

I have so many questions in regard to the realtors bath water scene. This guy had to have known something was up because that water did not look natural. The water wasn't brown or a green tint. That water was as black as night! That is ghost water if I've ever seen it, and the fact he puts on his, "Oh, this again" face lets me know that he knew that place was haunted. I'd fire him.

Jennifer and Matthew's death scene is pretty overbearing because, at this point, you want to believe that maybe Toshio isn't evil. Even when he had us jumping out of our seats as he peered over Jennifer's bedside, we wondered if he could possibly be there to help. But he wasn't, was he?

Susan's entire minutes after calling Matthew reveal a lot to us about the story and expose just how evil Kayako and Toshio are. When Kayako crawls up or down stairs you can tell they're skipping frames to give that unnatural movement look to her. I'm not going to say The Grudge originated this idea as Ringu adopted similar strategies for creepy movement, but this is certainly one of the earlier stages of this kind of post-production editing.

Even Kayako in shadow form on camera strikes fear as she's proven to be a great threat thus far. I think what makes this scene build so much tension is that Susan never gets a break. Even in the elevator, Toshio is just staring at her completely nude, and then is face gets so close. WHY DOES THIS FAMILY FEEL LIKE THEY HAVE TO BE SO CLOSE!

Her death is pretty unusual from the rest as a body has never really disappeared before now. So, technically, Susan could still be alive, but maybe in Freddy's dreamscape...? I can look past this death since Kayako hiding under the sheets paralyzes you into a state of realization that this is what you've always feared and its happening to someone right now on screen. Under the sheets is no place for a ghost.

The Yoko scene is pretty frightening in comparable ways, but raises similar questions to Susan's death. We've never seen one of the victims come back to life or become possessed before, but that is what's happening here, right? And why remove her lower jaw? I'm not sure if there is much to this other than the fact that it's terrifying and quite a gruesome scene. The only other explanation I have is that since Alex entered the home this is Kayako attacking him in a form he's familiar with. But even considering that... Why change form? I'm afraid that I'm convinced that this scene exists to instill fear and for no other reason at all.

I mentioned the story doesn't need to pace itself as the tension doesn't seem to subside, but the way the story progresses feels natural and isn't rushed at all. I've mentioned before that jump scares are cheap horror for me and are rarely done well, but this movie executes them with precision by making them necessary for the story line. When Detective Nakagawa is drowned it will startle you for a moment, but its allowing you to infer on Toshio's death and who may be responsible. Nevertheless, these subtle hints are generated throughout the film such as when the realtor drains the tub to find Toshio inside. It is all well orchestrated to be a movie directed by a great story and not a story directed by a great cinematic experience.

I don't think the conclusion feels conclusive, but I also think it leaves that door open for the sequel, and rightfully so. The films budget was just under $10,000,000 and made almost $190,000,000 worldwide. I guess the interaction between Kayako and Karen felt rushed to me, but that could have something to do with the revealing flashback sequence not feeling like a part of Karen's 'boss fight'. Even so, Kayako's last crawl is still terrifying nonetheless so I applaud it for that.

QUALITY RATING


****For more info on how we rate horror films, check out our about page at mainscreamblog.com****


I wanted to heavily critique this movie on its ability to build suspense and I spend a lot of time negotiating these numbers in my head as the decision making matrix is the most interesting and unique part of this blog in my opinion. At the same time, I don't want to be too generous with 9s and 10s so I weighted my rating 30% on how Suspense is built, and while I almost gave it a nine, I went ahead and gave it an eight. The grudge moaning sound is such an iconic part of horror and it needs to be recognized as that icon in horror history, but that unsettling feeling the characters seem to get comes from their own intuition which doesn't allow me to feel that same tension a lot of times. I go back and forth on this rating more than the rest because you must not get confused, this movie is very tense. There was just a few times where I felt left out by those being haunted.

I wanted to be heavily disturbed watching this so I weighted it accordingly. If there's a lingering feeling after the film I know there's a little disturbance there. I think the PG-13 rating keeps things relatively tame without so many graphic imagery keeping that disturbance factor as far away from R as possible. Though, for a PG-13 movie, still quite disturbing. I give it a six.

Who cares about gore in this movie. I was surprised how graphic it would be despite the rating, however. Seeing Yoko's jaw on the floor is pretty torture-film-esque in nature so that was unexpected. I gave it a five for scenes like this.

The plot is pretty well done especially for the paranormal sub-genre. Like I said, the story revealed itself in layers and very naturally. It didn't feel rushed, but I also didn't feel like I was waiting a lifetime to know what happened. Its no screenplay of the year, but a pretty good foundation for the film. For this reason its receiving a seven.

In the same way, if I remember from the first time I saw the movie, the abusive family dynamic alongside Kayako being a stalker really took me for a turn. How all of the characters connected to Kayako and Toshio was something I wouldn't have predicted which is a seven kind of attribute for me as far as twists go.

The jump scares are great and its going to take a lot for me to give a high rating for something like that, but the Grudge is going to earn a six in this category for constantly introducing jump scares throughout the film and bringing them in creative and unexpected ways no matter what time of day it was.

I expected this film to earn an 8/10 because it really is just a well-rounded cinematic experience. So, I was shocked by my weighted 6.85. This isn't a bad score I just thought it would be higher, but that's the beauty of the weighted decision matrix. It can prove to reveal more of what you thought than you initially realized or it can be overly analyzed; therefore, ruining how you truly feel.


CONCLUSION


This was a great experience and I've probably watched it at least a dozen times. It has aged very well and is truly a good introductory film for young teens and continues to be a film worth obsessing over in adulthood. It encompasses some of the most notorious attributes of horror: dread, suffering, mourning, suspense, and many more. If you haven't watched many horror films more than twenty years old, than you'll find many influential gems in this one. I highly recommend this film, but what are your thoughts? I am just some horror fanatic like you are, anyway.


YOU MAY NOT KNOW


  • The boy who plays Toshio, Yuya Ozeki, was terrified of cats.

  • Yuya Ozeki, Takako Fuji, and Takashi Matsuyama played the cursed Saeki family in Ju-On: The Grudge and Ju-On: The Grudge 2 and reprising their roles in this film.

  • The moaning sounds that Kayako would make was accompanied by the vibrations of a hair comb, slowed down to produce the final product heard in the film.

  • Kayako's moaning sound originated from her husband snapping her neck, but not killing her. its her attempt to breath through a broken windpipe. She crawls because she broke her ankle running away from him and she is covered in blood because he repeatedly slashed her with a boxcutter. This scene is restored in the Unrated Cut, but was removed for to achieve a PG-13 rating.

  • The Grudge 2 was greenlit the Monday after their $39,000,000 opening weekend.

  • The film received one out of four stars on one of Roger Ebert's "Most Hated" lists.


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