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Baity’s revisiting a tired Grudge

by Glen Baity

We learned from a certain 2004 horror film, that whenever someone dies in a circumstance that is extraordinarily brutal or hateful, a grudge is born.

Enough vengeance can never be wrought to satisfy the grudge, which was bad news for then-live-in nurse Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar), who was driven insane by the ghosts who lived in her house in the first film.

Of course, you have to wonder that there aren’t more of these kinds of ghosts, given the number of violent deaths that happen every day in the world, but that’s kind of immaterial: If you need evidence that this curse is everlasting, look no further for proof than the very existence of such a thing as The Grudge 2, a thinly plotted, unyielding sensory assault in a J-horror costume.

Gellar returns in The Grudge 2, but it’s telling that she sticks around just long enough to loosely connect the film with its mediocre first installment. She reprises her role as Karen, an American in Tokyo terrorized by a pair of vengeful, angry ghosts looking for someone to punish for their presumably miserable afterlives. Lately confined to a mental hospital, Karen is still haunted by the pale blue, wide-eyed spirits of a little boy and his mother, both filled with murderous rage from beyond the grave, each willing to take it out on any attractive young woman who happens through their zip code.

Last time it was Karen, but the stage for this second grudge match is set when a trio of high school students visits the haunted house that made Karen’s life a living hell in the first film. Catching the grudge, evidently, is not unlike catching a cold.

As you’d expect, the grudge settles on these three starlets, two of whom are dispensed with in short order. The third, Allison (Arielle Kebbel), stays alive, but only so the ghosts can sneak up and grab her over and over and over.

Paralleling Allison’s story is a similar tale in which Karen’s sister Aubrey (Amber Tamblyn, of TV’s “Joan of Arcadia”) visits her sibling’s Tokyo psych ward, where she comes to the attention of the croaking ghoulies. Abundant ‘boo’ scares ensue, arriving on the wings of the requisite orchestral pops, which makes the film scary in a purely reflexive way.

The Grudge 2 is the umpteenth American remake of a Japanese horror film, and some of the visual style elements are getting a bit dusty after two Ju-ons (the Japanese title) and two American translations (to say nothing of the far-too-similar Ring films and their remakes). But it should at least be acknowledged that director Takashi Shimizu and his ilk understand some of horror’s conventions better than many of their American contemporaries. Shimizu’s ghosts don’t wait until dark and stormy nights to creep up on their prey, nor do they attack only when these characters are alone.

In this film, as in the first Grudge, some of the scariest moments take place in broad daylight in crowds of people, leaving that unsettling feeling that one is never safe anywhere. That’s a crucial component of any horror film, one too often lacking in American horror.

The atmosphere, unfortunately, is the film’s only asset. The parallel story construction is interesting, but the film plays up the link between the two stories as if it’s supposed to be some sort of mystery (it isn’t).

That fact sums up much of what one needs to know about The Grudge 2, which frequently tries to make something out of nothing, to no great result. As pretty as the film is, the plot unfolds in the manner of a million slasher flicks that came before it, as underdeveloped characters are systematically and mechanically knocked off by the twin ghoulies in a series of marginally creative scenes. This succession of events stands in for the actual plot, which is a little flimsy and quite a bit like The Ring.

The lack of an interesting story isn’t helped by the porno-grade acting of the film’s mostly unknown cast, led by Tamblyn, whose face is curled into a permanent sob. Nor does it find much material in screenwriter Stephen Susco’s cliché-addled script, which features dramatic chestnuts like “I don’t know what to believe anymore!” and “We have no choice – it’s our only hope!”

Though creepier than one might think (especially since the first film was a resounding dud from start to finish, and this one at least has some very tense moments), The Grudge 2 is basically a by-the-numbers horror film with a modern façade.

E-mail your comments on this article to glen.baity@gmail.com. It’s your only hope.

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