Taking place in the mid-2000s, the same time as the first American remakes of the Japanese Ju On movies, the film chronicles the swath of destruction caused by an American nurse, Fiona (Tara Westwood) bringing home the Saeki curse to her own house and spreading it to anyone who steps inside.
I wasn’t big on the idea of yet another American take on the classic series, but I gave in out of curiosity, and it won me over. While there are jump scares, they’re pretty effective rather than cheesy and predictable, and the movie doesn’t rely solely on them. The main attraction is atmosphere: the sense of building dread and anticipation of horrible things to come. The creepy AF score by the phenomenal genre pros The Newton Brothers doesn’t hurt, either.
The cast is amazing, and the characters are darn likable. Often it’s easy to be detached from more minor characters when there are a lot of them, especially ones that are obviously not going to make it, but in this movie it’s genuinely difficult to see them suffer. I got attached. We have John Cho and Betty Gilpin as Peter and Nina, an adorable married real estate team in charge of the cursed house, who are expecting their first baby.
We have Frankie Faison and Lin Shaye as William and Faith, the next tenants of the house, a loving couple (of “fifty beautiful years”) who want to stay together as far as the limits of the afterlife will let them, with the help of Lorna (Jacki Weaver), who initiates assisted suicides. (Okay, some people will morally object to liking those characters, but we can all agree that Faison and Weaver are national treasures.) We have detectives Goodman (Demián Bichir) and Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough), good cops who are pulled into the curse by trying to solve the mystery. And the wholesome Landers family that starts the whole thing: mom Fiona, dad Sam (David Lawrence Brown), and young daughter Melinda (Zoe Fish).
Naturally my biggest gripe is that while avoiding the xenophobia that permeated the first Grudge remake (it’s rife with westerners cringing at Japanese culture and driven by the idea that foreign is automatically scarier), instead everything is whitewashed. The ghosts are no longer Asian but white white whities. There is some diversity in the casting, with Bichir, Cho, and Faison, but mostly we’re seeing from the perspective of Muldoon the white lady (I guess yay for gender equality?). Also I’m thinking those parts were written with white dudes in mind, judging by their character surnames: Goodman, Spencer, and Matheson, respectively.
I happened to awaken at three in the morning the night after I watched this (my reviews average a three-day turnaround), and I found myself dwelling on how creepy it was. I even turned on the light when I got out of bed. I can’t remember the last time that happened, that a movie stuck with me like that. It’s my understanding that a lot of people hated it, and I’m genuinely puzzled as to why. (Besides that it blatantly copies some of the coolest stuff from the original movies, like the fingers appearing in the shower, or maybe that the death rattle noise makes no sense coming from a character who drowned, because it originated with Kayako’s broken neck.) Give it a look if you’re in the mood for something eerie and gory and pulls no punches. (Okay, it pulls one punch, but I won’t tell you what it is.)