Mimic 3 meets Amityville 6 in a J-Horror franchise... or maybe not.
After surviving the vicious spirit attacks in a Chicago apartment building, Jake is placed in a psychiatrical clinic. While most of the tenants have already left the building, the curse lives on in the appartment complex. Back in Tokyo, a Japanese woman believes she holds the key to stopping the vengeful ghost of Kayako once and for all…
I suppose I could start with a newsflash for all those who claim they liked the first The Grudge remake from 2004, but disliked the sequels. There’s no way they can talk themselves out of claiming they liked one film and then saying they dislike that very same film. Only to them, it’s a different film because it’s a sequel and they’re right about that, of course. But in its essence, all The Grudge films tell the same story over and over again. Ergo, it’s the same film, even if it’s a sequel, prequel or remake. Per definition, a sequel makes up for a lesser film, no? In the same way a remake obviously always makes up for a worse movie, yes? Well screw that. People who swear by this theory, aren’t even trying. And per definition, those who are unwilling, will never reach new insights. It’s always easy to bash a sequel just because it’s a sequel. Enough about this; let’s talk The Grudge.
We’ll skip the orignal Japanese installments and just focus on the American outings of this pretty popular curse. The Grudge 3 succeeds in showing some coherence with the first two (American) films and isn’t really too bad as a stand alone film either. Compared to it’s predecessors it ups the body count, gives Kayako and Toshio a bit more screentime, adds a little gore and even sort of introduces a third ghostly character near the end. However, this third film lacks in atmosphere and suspense and is virtually devoided from any surprises or twists. It’s certainly not a far cry from the previous films and it does a decent effort to fit in with the other two. But if those might have still had an edge to them, than The Grudge 3 has somehow lost it. Honestly, when I first saw the original Japanese Ju-On back in 2002, I was a bit underwhelmed. How could I not be, with having seen the original three Ringu films already by that time? Same happened with the remake in 2004. I wasn’t too impressed and liked the American The Ring (2002) better. But in retrospect, it’s safe to say that far inferior J-Horror films have been made, both before and after Ju-On became popular. So, The Grudge has every right to be famous.
Matthew Knight (who plays Jake, the boy who survived the second film) serves the same use to the plot as Sarah Michele Gellar did in the second film: To die early on in the movie and get the curse going again. A few scenes during the first act – set in Tokyo and even spoken in Japanese, something the first two American films never bothered to do – introduce us to Naoko (Emi Ikehata), who we discover to be Kayako’s sister. Funny how the previous two films failed to mention she had a sister. Oh, right, she wasn’t written yet back then. Still, good to know there’s someone still left to fight Kayako and her evil curse, none less than her own blood even. Naoko takes a plane to Chicago and from then onward, we’re pretty much confined to the appartment building setting for the remainder of the movie. There have been enough films made that actually handle an appartment complex setting and its various tenants pretty well. An equal amount of films failed to work with this concept in an interesting way. The Grudge 3 is amongst the best nor the worst. It comes across as uninspired. Main focus lies on the characters of Max (Gil McKinney), caretaker of the building, his teenage sister Lisa (Johanna Braddy) and littlest sibling Rose (Jadie Hobson). At least these characters were given some background. All others running around in this film – which aren’t that many – are merely nourishment for the Grudge. That’s fine, of course, as we expect them to be just that. But one painful thing, though, was seeing Shawnee Smith credited on the dvd cover, while all the scenes she’s in, probably don’t even amount to ten minutes of screentime. She played Jake’s psychiatrist, Dr. Sullivan, and is served an ill fate. Even a fool can easily figure out she was just cast to lend the movie some star-power, since Ms. Smith had just starred in all five installments of the popular Saw franchise (with a sixth one coming up).
Director Toby Wilkins just finished doing Splinter (2008), a film that already gained a modest fanbase for the right reasons. Both with Splinter and The Grudge 3 he proves to know various ways of building up and exploiting tension in a horror film. But he still has a thing or two to learn about creating mood and atmosphere. Slowing down the pace and using longer, steady shots does help, but there’s more things he could have done. When it comes to The Grudge 3, I can imagine it was required for Wilkins to imitate Takashi Shimizu‘s scary trickery from the first two American installments. And per definition, imitations are always inferior extractions of the original. Still, I think that’s not the core of the problem here. With the first remake, Shimizu slightly enhanced his original and writer Stephen Susco finetuned the plot a bit (which was needed). The sequel to the remake didn’t try to do something different but shifted the whole narrative puzzle to different locations. It sort of became a continuation of the first film, with the same atmosphere and the same texture only in a different context. Fair enough, it worked, as far as I’m concerned. Essentially, this third film tries to do the same again – albeit with a much more straightforward plotline – but the filmmakers messed it up on one small but important detail: The look of the film. That’s where the core of the problem lies. Brighter colorschemes are being used in the set design and the scenes in which ghostly Kayako and Toshio appear, are lacking the use of darkness and shadows. It evidently reduces the scariness of the whole film. The intended creepiness is still there, though it’s less effective since we really do see too much of what’s going on. Plus, this time Kayako moves around in a fashion much more akin to Sadako from the Ringu films than she used to. Sorry, Mr. Wilkins, but that was too obvious and too easy. I agree with Bono on this one: She should have moved in more mysterious ways.
This time Takako Fuji does not reprise her role as Kayako. She’s replaced by Aiko Horiuchi, who can put down her ghostly performance in The Grudge 3 as the first credit on her resumé. In a way, I even consider her to be the real star of this film. She’s completely white, has long black hair, doesn’t say anything and acts all spastic when she gets angry. That’s a winner for any adapted J-Horror format. A job well done, Aiko, and I hope you’ll move onto bigger and better things after this. Because I don’t think anyone is waiting for a Grudge 4 to happen. I myself, am torn between the two options. With just having seen all three American The Grudge films in one week – for comparison reasons – I can safely say that being cursed three times is about enough and I feel no need for more of the same. On the other hand, since we’re talking about a curse – or haunting, if you will – that moves from person to person and is not bound to one specific location, the possibilities seem limitless to actually turn this into an interesting franchise. If only possible future writers would view the material from an original angle or put things into a new perspective. The Grudge 3 shows no indication that this might happen, so maybe it’s time to put the curse to rest.
All possible gripes aside, if you’ve enjoyed the previous two films, there really is no need to avoid this one. Brad Keene‘s screenplay makes it feel in check with the Grudge universe, and Wilkins did manage to give the film some style. It just looks a little different, which might work as a disadvantage, or possibly give it a bit more of an own identity with a slightly different musical score adding to the result. It all depends on how you look at it. The scares inevitably lost some of their impact and the shocks are not always as effective as they used to be. As a healthy counterweight, things do get a little bloodier this time around. These are pretty much things you can expect from a third film in any given series. In that sense, The Grudge 3 failed to disappoint, making it a fair enough means to an end.