CERT:15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: NICOLAS PESCE / STARRING: TARA WESTWOOD, JUNK BAILEY, DAVID LAWRENCE BROWN, ANDREA RISEBOROUGH, ZOE FISH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (VOD), TBC (DVD)
After the monochrome nightmare of The Eyes of My Mother and the psycho-sexual farce of Piercing, Nicolas Pesce has proven himself a daring, unique, voice in genre filmmaking. Odd then that he was scouted by producer Sam Raimi as the man to take a franchise like The Grudge into the ‘20s.
For most folks, a Grudge reboot will feel a bit left-field. The 2004 film starring Sarah Michelle Gellar was fine but sat in the shadow of the Gore Verbinski-produced Ring remake. This has been a long-term issue for the franchise: constantly being compared with pretty much the only other Japanese horror franchise exported to the western mainstream. But Ju-On has time and time again proven its mettle garnering 11 releases (including a Ring crossover, Sadako vs. Kayako), novels, graphic novels, and a video game. So, there’s a strong and loving core fan base waiting for decent sequels.
Like most of the original Grudge films, Pesce’s reboot has an almost anthology style approach. Since Shimizu’s original short films in 1998, the focus has always been on the insidious way Ju-on's curse clings like a virus. One step over the threshold and that’s it, the gargling inky-haired ghost will terrorise you until death. Pesce deserves credit for the ambition he brings to the project, interweaving different stories and time periods via three separate groups of characters. For the most part, we focus on Andrea Riseborough’s Detective Muldoon, a single mother who has returned to the force after losing her husband to cancer. After discovering a mutilated corpse on an unused country road, she is drawn into a nightmare which has already poisoned the lives of many, including Detective Goodman (Demian Bichir) her seasoned partner.
What Pesce manages to do is bring heart and humanity to the horror, just as he did with The Eyes of My Mother. It's a double-edged sword though since the scares often feel rushed and surprisingly clichéd for the story being told. Part of that is down to the big-budget scare-a-minute formula deployed by studio horror. For the most part, though, it’s actually Pesce’s own geekery and super fandom that arguably gets in the way. Not long into The Grudge, you might start feeling like this is all a bit familiar and you’d be right. There are a lot of call-backs, easily spotted even for a layman. An Easter egg feature on the home release reveals that some of the film’s finest moments are recycled from the graphic novel, game, and original Grudge films/remake. Even the infamous Sarah Michelle Gellar shower gag is remade. Though, even with remade scares, it’s worth noting that Pesce’s reputation for nasty visceral gore is upheld grotesquely by The Grudge. There are some really nasty surprises in here.
All in all, Pesce’s reboot comes across as a loving bit of fanfare; a nightmarish play-session in The Grudge sandbox populated with some damn fine performers and shocking gore. We mean, find us a film where Lin Shaye, Frankie Faison, Jacki Weaver, and William Sadler are all introduced within minutes of each other and then terrorised into the grave, and we’re there. It’s the best cast Pesce has worked with so far and bodes well for whatever future projects he may have planned. Whilst the new Grudge might sport an arguably derivative recycling of franchise hits, it does have ambition, heart, solid chills, and is easily the best-looking entry in years.