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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

The Grudge Takashi Shimizu 2004

Glossed in Translation

Before I get bitchy, let me say that I liked The Grudge. I think it’s a fascinating bit of cross-cultural entertainment that may or may not catch on with mainstream audiences because of how uncompromising it is before it compromises; namely, up until the last-act investigation/chase/wrap-up, its structure is completely bizarre and its tone unwavering to the point of mathematical accuracy. There are some fantastically good scares and great classic haunted house moments, and the mood of inescapable dread is infused with a heavy fatalism that this grumbly Gus found delightful.

I also found the theme of the film, Americans in Peril, to be very well-realized and genuinely disturbing. What we basically have here is a series of vignettes detailing how various Americans now living in Tokyo are summarily dismantled by the vengeful spirit of a murdered woman, Kayako (her creepy little boy Toshio helps out, too). Remember the gooey and rapturously romantic Lost in Translation, in which lost Americans found true love against the exotic, colorful background of contemporary Japan? Well, this is basically the same thing, only Japan looks like Detroit and the lovebirds all end up dead in the attic of a suburban house. Really, this is the evil anti-Translation, where Japan responds to Sofia Coppola’s watercolor rendering of Tokyo with a resounding “uh-uh!!”. Before you can say “Watch your ass, round-eye!”, the malevolent spirit has done her part for international tourism by making Japan out to be one of the most hazardous destinations outside of the Bronx.

Also to be celebrated is the fact that a lot of thought seems to have gone into the cast, which is a cornucopia of genre vets, including Grace Zabriskie (Twin Peaks), Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy, IKWYDLS), Jason Behr (Roswell), Clea Duvall (The Faculty, Identity, Carnevale), Ted Raimi (or as I like to call him, “The New Clint Howard” for his continued meal-ticket relationship with his brother Sam, the producer here), and Bill Pullman (The Serpent and the Rainbow). Such a bizarre assortment of tormented types works well with the mood here: the procession of the characters towards their inevitable ends carry a sort of mythic weight here, almost like they are trapped inside their past genre characters, yet dropped in a new setting, unable to figure out what the hell is going on or escape a tragic fate. Again, plopping these plucky Yanks into a well-established foreign ghost machine and letting them flounder is what I consider to be a brilliant juxtaposition and one that lends itself immensely well to a foreign film remade with American actors: the audience is encouraged to identify with the victims both because of their vulnerability to the ghost and their inability to navigate their surroundings (the architecture alone in this film is enough to make most viewers squirm).

Anyway, on with the bitching:

First off, LOSE THE ENDING. I won’t be so caddish as to give it away here, but it is redundant, predicable, and silly – the penultimate scene in the house says everything that needs to be said and is actually quite disturbing; the tacked-on coda is greedy and smacks of a studio-forced re-shoot.

Second, ENOUGH WITH THE QUICK BLACKOUTS. I don’t have a problem with episodic or repetitive structures (I love anthologies and things that play with time or revisited scenes), but there are so many creep-jumpscare-blackout repetitions in this film that it plays like a made-for-tv movie with the commercials cut out (I half expected a commercial for Dolly Madison to pop up after a while). While in the originals (you can read my reviews HERE) exploit this architecture by actually placing the victims’ names at the head of each segment, here they drop the formality but keep the arc, which is a compromise that makes for a somewhat clumsy watch if you don’t know what you’re in for.

Third, DELIVER ME FROM WILLIAM MAPOTHER. There is one actor whose name I have suspiciously left out of the list above (well, one American actor – I left out the Japanese names because I can’t spell them): one William Mapother. While watching the movie, a thought dawned on me like a revelation: “that guy playing Clea Duvall’s husband is the worst actor who has ever lived.” At first I thought it was just because Clea plays a lesbian so often that maybe he was freaked that he would be the bottom. But then I checked out his filmography and my suspicions were realized: never before have I seen an actor with more “Scenes Deleted” credits to his name. Mean Creek: saw it, liked it. Guess what? Mr. Mapother’s scenes are on the cutting room floor! Almost Famous? Same thing. Vanilla Sky? Uncredited! The fact that the man’s most regular gig has been a “special assistant” to Tom Cruise on everything from Cocktail to MI:2 leads me to wonder if the Divine Mr. M’s talents may lie somewhere other than in his acting abilities.

Lastly, MORE BEHR ASS. For those of you wondering where Jason Behr has been since Roswell got yanked from the WB, the answer is clear: he’s been at the gym, Butt-Blasting his way to one of the juciest shit-boxes Hollywood has to offer. I’m sorry, but this kid is fine. Sure, his lovehams are swaddled in thin cotton running shorts, but they do very little in the way of concealing their beauty: each clench, wiggle, and flex is showcased for our enjoyment in a scene that may only last 2 minutes in reality, but will remain for an eternity in my sick little mind.

In all, some nicely-executed scares, a fairly oppressive sense of dread, and the return of that creepy belching sound that I fell in love with in the original. If you have a thing about people touching you, this will make you lose your shit – these ghosts don’t know from personal space and one of the creepiest things about them is that they basically molest their victims by showing up in their hair and hovering over their faces. Were the Hollywoodizing of the story not so prominent (the love story, the more prominent main character, the watering-down of the horrific backstory), the film would be much more successful. But on the whole, pretty unsettling stuff, and certainly one of the more interesting horror pics of the year.

Rating (out of 5):