"The Grudge" lacks every piece necessary for a successful remake, including the reasoning for making it in the first place.
Sometimes it's difficult not to view a film with a subconscious bias that is brought on by your circumstances. In this case, I was desperate for a slice of decent horror after a two-month hiatus due to the birth of my second daughter. Exhausted from lack of sleep and deprived of my favorite genre, The Grudge (2020) was backed into the proverbial corner from my point of view before the opening credits rolled. Therefore, unfortunately for this remake, it will now be the horror pariah of the new year.
Remakes can be an incredibly difficult concept to tackle. They are forced to walk a tight rope between creative expression, to retain freshness, and nuanced homage, to respect the original. More often than not, the finished product suffers a lack of originality that then leaves the audience in disappointment. While the Child's Play remake found a creative modernization of the killer doll that properly balanced allusion and originality, The Grudge remake didn't even seem capable of determining, with any confidence, whether it wanted to be a sequel or remake.
The end result was a clunky, bland, and outright boring repackaged take on a genuinely terrifying American adaptation.
The Grudge (200Courtesy of IMDb
The "original" Grudge (2004) was, of course, an American remake of the Japanese horror film Ju-on (2002). It was the second in a yet-unending trend of Japanese-to-American horror remakes that was preceded by the successful 2002 scare-flick The Ring. International remakes don't tend to suffer the same fate as in-state remakes simply because they can follow the principle of "it's new to them". Whereas Child's Play brought something fresh to a well-known icon, a remake of a foreign film can practically be a shot-for-shot rehash with the added benefit of not requiring subtitles.
Instead, The Grudge remake lacked everything that made the 2004 version such a staple of the modern horror jumpscare trend. Its formulaic scares (sans one decent scene that channels a James Wan-inspired moment) are delivered like a slow-pitch joke out of Big Bang Theory. Just like a roller coaster's initial climb, you know just when every valley and peak is coming, with momentum-killing breaks in between. On top of this predictable and standardized pacing, the plot follows several different families haunted within the home, which agonizingly resets the tension and build with every introduction of new characters. The approach leaves the viewer fully aware of what's eventually coming, but must exercise the incalculable patience of a 5-year old waiting for Christmas morning to get to some semblance of a final act.
Of course, once you finally get to open your present, it's nothing but a pair of argyle socks. The brief and inconsistent tension never pays off with scares that, at one time, kept many a movie patron up at night in 2004. Despite the R-rating (the 2004 version was PG-13), the film feels more mild and restrained. It's a common trend to see a rated-R horror film gutted in editing to be PG-13 to reach a wider audience, and in some depressing twist of irony, the 2020 Grudge seemed to take a PG-13 product and try to tweak it into R in post-production.
I find this hilariously evident not only with the CG-saturated violence, but the obligatory solitary F-bomb, which has seemingly become a running gag in all PG-13 films. It was this brief instance of profanity that culminated the film's failures into a single four-letter word. It was the cherry on top of a 15-year-old fruitcake.
I am usually determined to find something salvageable and/or commendable in every film I watch, and the overall weak product of this movie made those moments all-the-more easy to extract. The use of the infamous Grudge spirit's guttural groan throughout was well integrated into everyday sounds (like a car starting or the creaking of a door) and it was a nice subtle touch when any visual cues were absent. There also appeared to be a scene within the film that poked fun at the morally-ambiguous conclusion to Netflix's horror-drama series Haunting of Hill House. But in retrospect, I am consumed with doubt that an otherwise cowardly, unoriginal production would be clever enough to place such a witty call-out with any semblance of deft delivery. It was probably just a coincidence.
Here's to hoping that 2020's horror doesn't end the way it started. Perhaps it can be redeemed next week with the Kristen Stewart/Vincent Cassel-led Underwater, though I don't plan to hold my breath.